Robert Zubrin

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Robert Zubrin
Robert Zubrin by the Mars Society.jpg
Photo of Zubrin by the Mars Society
Born (1952-04-09) April 9, 1952 (age 69)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Alma mater University of Rochester
University of Washington
(M.S), (PhD)
Known for Mars Direct
Mars Society
The Case for Mars
Energy Victory
Spouse(s)Hope Zubrin
Scientific career
Fields Aerospace engineering
Institutions Martin Marietta
Pioneer Astronautics

Robert Zubrin ( /ˈzbrɪn/ ; [1] born April 9, [2] 1952 [3] ) is an American aerospace engineer, author, and advocate for human exploration of Mars. He and his colleague at Martin Marietta, David Baker, were the driving force behind Mars Direct, a proposal in a 1990 research paper intended to produce significant reductions in the cost and complexity of such a mission. The key idea was to use the Martian atmosphere to produce oxygen, water, and rocket propellant for the surface stay and return journey. A modified version of the plan was subsequently adopted by NASA as their "design reference mission". He questions the delay and cost-to-benefit ratio of first establishing a base or outpost on an asteroid or another Apollo program-like return to the Moon, as neither would be able to provide all of its own oxygen, water, or energy; these resources are producible on Mars, and he expects people would be there thereafter. [4]


Disappointed with the lack of interest from government in Mars exploration and after the success of his book The Case for Mars (1996), as well as leadership experience at the National Space Society, Zubrin established the Mars Society in 1998. This is an international organization advocating a human mission to Mars as a goal, by private funding if possible.

Early life and education

Zubrin was born in New York City's Brooklyn borough [3] on April 9, 1952. His father was descended from Russian Jewish immigrants. [5] He was a science teacher for 7 years before becoming an engineer. [3]

Qualifications and professional career

Zubrin holds a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Rochester (1974), a M.S. in Nuclear Engineering (1984), a M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics (1986), and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering (1992) — all from the University of Washington. [6] [ circular reference ] [7] He has developed a number of concepts for space propulsion and exploration, and is the author of over 200 technical and non-technical papers and several books. He is also President of both the Mars Society and Pioneer Astronautics, a private company that does research and development on innovative aerospace technologies. Zubrin is the co-inventor on a U.S. design patent and a U.S. utility patent on a hybrid rocket/airplane, and on a U.S. utility patent on an oxygen supply system (see links below).

Zubrin was awarded his first patent at age 20 in 1972 for Three Player Chess. His inventions also include the nuclear salt-water rocket and co-inventor (with Dana Andrews) of the magnetic sail. Zubrin is fellow at Center for Security Policy. [8]

During his professional career, Zubrin was a member of Lockheed Martin's scenario development team charged with developing strategies for space exploration. He was also "a senior engineer with the Martin Marietta Astronautics company, working as one of its leaders in development of advanced concepts for interplanetary missions". [9] During his time at Martin Marietta, he drafted ideas for a potential single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft, and developed the Black Colt. However, he would eventually leave Martin Marietta to co-form Pioneer Rocketplane with Mitchell Burnside Clapp, an aerospace engineer from the US Air Force, due to a perceived lack of interest in reducing launch costs at larger aerospace firms. [10] In his book, Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, Zubrin would write about how both large aerospace firms, and the US Government, would fail to reduce the costs of spaceflight.

In 1998, Zubrin founded the Mars Society, and in the following years, was able to attract large amounts of public interest to potential human colonisation on Mars. The work of the Mars Society was successful enough as to encourage the US Government to not cut funding for several Mars rover missions.

Pioneer Energy

In 2008, Zubrin founded Pioneer Energy, a research and development firm headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado. The company's focus is to develop mobile Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) systems that can enable CO2-based EOR for both small and large oil producers in the United States. The company has also developed a number of new processes for manufacturing synthetic fuels. [11]


Books edited or co-authored

Zubrin has also edited or co-edited the following books, most of which include his contributions:

Selected publications

The ethics of terraforming

Dr. Zubrin is known as an advocate of a moderately anthropocentric position in the ethics of terraforming. Discussions of the ethics of terraforming often[ citation needed ] make reference to a series of public debates Zubrin has held with his friend Christopher McKay, who advocates a moderately biocentric position on the ethics of terraforming. For example, a written account of some of these debates is available in On to Mars: Colonizing a New World, as a joint article, "Do Indigenous Martian Bacteria have Precedence over Human Exploration?" (pp. 177–182)

Cultural references

An aging Robert Zubrin also appears as a background character in The Martian Race (1999) by Gregory Benford, a science fiction novel depicting early human explorers on Mars in the very near future. Benford, who is also an astrophysicist, is a longtime member of both the board of directors and the steering committee of the Mars Society.[ citation needed ]

Robert Zubrin was also featured in a 2007 CBC Television documentary special, The Passionate Eye, dubbed "The Mars Underground". [16]

The songwriter and musician Frank Black (alias Black Francis of the Pixies) penned an homage to Zubrin, "Robert Onion", on the album Dog in the Sand . The lyrics are in the form of an acrostic, spelling "Robert The Case For Mars Zubrin". [17]

In 2010 Robert Zubrin was featured in the Symphony of Science video "The Case for Mars" along with Carl Sagan, Brian Cox, and Penelope Boston. [18]

The fictional character Dr. Zachary Walzer in the 2010–2011 independent VODO series Pioneer One was inspired by Zubrin. [19]

In 2016, Zubrin was one of several scientists and engineers interviewed in the National Geographic miniseries Mars .


Related Research Articles

Interplanetary spaceflight Crewed or uncrewed travel between stars or planets

Interplanetary spaceflight or interplanetary travel is the crewed or uncrewed travel between stars and planets, usually within a single planetary system. In practice, spaceflights of this type are confined to travel between the planets of the Solar System. Uncrewed space probes have flown to all the observed planets in the Solar System as well as to dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres, and several asteroids. Orbiters and landers return more information than fly-by missions. Crewed flights have landed on the Moon and have been planned, from time to time, for Mars and Venus. While many scientists appreciate the knowledge value that uncrewed flights provide, the value of crewed missions is more controversial. Science fiction writers propose a number of benefits, including the mining of asteroids, access to solar power, and room for colonization in the event of an Earth catastrophe.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Russian and Soviet rocket scientist

Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky was a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist who pioneered astronautic theory. Along with the Frenchman Robert Esnault-Pelterie, the Transylvanian German Hermann Oberth and the American Robert H. Goddard, he is one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry and astronautics. His works later inspired leading Soviet rocket-engineers Sergei Korolev and Valentin Glushko who contributed to the success of the Soviet space program. Tsiolkovsky spent most of his life in a log house on the outskirts of Kaluga, about 200 km (120 mi) southwest of Moscow. A recluse by nature, his unusual habits made him seem bizarre to his fellow townsfolk.

The Mars Society is an American worldwide volunteer-driven space-advocacy non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the human exploration and settlement of the planet Mars. Inspired by "The Case for Mars" conferences which were hosted by The Mars Underground at the University of Colorado Boulder, the Mars Society was established by Robert Zubrin and others in 1998 with the goal of educating the public, the media and government on the benefits of exploring Mars, the importance of planning for a humans-to-Mars mission in the coming decades and the need to create a permanent human presence on the Red Planet.

Mars Direct Proposal for a crewed Mars mission

Mars Direct is a proposal for a human mission to Mars which purports to be both cost-effective and possible with current technology. It was originally detailed in a research paper by Martin Marietta engineers Robert Zubrin and David Baker in 1990, and later expanded upon in Zubrin's 1996 book The Case for Mars. It now serves as a staple of Zubrin's speaking engagements and general advocacy as head of the Mars Society, an organization devoted to the colonization of Mars.

Space colonization Concept of permanent human habitation outside of Earth

Space colonization is the hypothetical permanent habitation and exploitation of natural resources from outside planet Earth. As such it is a form of human presence in space, beyond human spaceflight or operating space outposts.

Terraforming Hypothetical planetary engineering process

Terraforming or terraformation is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of a planet, moon, or other body to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life.

<i>The Case for Mars</i> Book by Robert Zubrin on the potential colonization of Mars

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must is a nonfiction science book by Robert Zubrin, first published in 1996, and revised and updated in 2011.

British Interplanetary Society Space advocacy organization

The British Interplanetary Society (BIS), founded in Liverpool in 1933 by Philip E. Cleator, is the oldest existing space advocacy organisation in the world. Its aim is exclusively to support and promote astronautics and space exploration.

Colonization of Mars Proposed concepts for the human colonization of Mars

The hypothetical colonization of Mars has received interest from public space agencies and private corporations, and has received extensive treatment in science fiction writing, film, and art.

James R. French is a prominent U.S. aerospace engineer. While working for different NASA contractors during the 1960s, he helped design, develop and test the rocket engines for the Apollo/Saturn launch vehicles and the Apollo Lunar Module that enabled humans to walk on the Moon. He then joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where he worked on the Mariner, Viking, and Voyager missions.

Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station Place in Nunavut, Canada

The Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) is the first of two simulated Mars habitats established and maintained by the Mars Society.

Colonization of Venus Proposed colonization of the planet Venus

The colonization of Venus has been a subject of many works of science fiction since before the dawn of spaceflight, and is still discussed from both a fictional and a scientific standpoint. However, with the discovery of Venus's extremely hostile surface environment, attention has largely shifted towards the colonization of the Moon and Mars instead, with proposals for Venus focused on habitats floating in the upper-middle atmosphere and on terraforming.

Pioneer Rocketplane was an aerospace design and development company intent on developing affordable manned space flight. The company is most famous for advocating a horizontal takeoff, turbo-jet and rocket propelled, aerial-refueled, rocket plane concept called the Pathfinder. The company still exists, but is no longer in operation. Pioneer's intellectual property is now owned by Rocketplane Limited, Inc., however Rocketplane Limited does not employ any of the principals of Pioneer Rocketplane.

Colonization of Titan Proposed concepts for the human colonization of Titan

Saturn’s largest moon Titan is one of several candidates for possible future colonization of the outer Solar System.

Terraforming of Mars Hypothetical modification of Mars into a habitable planet

The terraforming of Mars or the terraformation of Mars is a hypothetical procedure that would consist of a planetary engineering project or concurrent projects, with the goal of transforming the planet from one hostile to terrestrial life to one that can sustainably host humans and other lifeforms free of protection or mediation. The process would presumably involve the rehabilitation of the planet's extant climate, atmosphere, and surface through a variety of resource-intensive initiatives, and the installation of a novel ecological system or systems.

Islands in the Sky: Bold New Ideas for Colonizing Space is a book composed of a collection of factual articles on space colonization, several from recognized experts in the field.

The ethics of terraforming has constituted a philosophical debate within biology, ecology, and environmental ethics as to whether terraforming other worlds is an ethical endeavor.

Human mission to Mars Various proposed crewed mission concepts to Mars

A human mission to Mars has been the subject of science fiction since the 1880s, and of aerospace engineering and scientific proposals since the late 1940s. Plans include landing on Mars for exploration at a minimum, with some considering exploring its moons Phobos and Deimos. Long-term proposals have included sending settlers and starting terraforming of the planet.

Mars to Stay Mars colonization architecture proposing no return vehicles

Mars to Stay missions propose astronauts sent to Mars for the first time should intend to stay. Unused emergency return vehicles would be recycled into settlement construction as soon as the habitability of Mars becomes evident to the initial pioneers. Mars to Stay missions are advocated both to reduce cost and to ensure permanent settlement of Mars. Among many notable Mars to Stay advocates, former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin has been particularly outspoken, suggesting in numerous forums "Forget the Moon, Let’s Head to Mars!" and, in June 2013, Aldrin promoted a crewed mission "to homestead Mars and become a two-planet species". In August 2015, Aldrin, in association with the Florida Institute of Technology, presented a "master plan", for NASA consideration, for astronauts, with a "tour of duty of ten years", to colonize Mars before the year 2040. The Mars Underground, Mars Homestead Project / Mars Foundation, Mars One, and Mars Artists Community advocacy groups and business organizations have also adopted Mars to Stay policy initiatives.

Eugene F. Lally was American aerospace engineer. He worked in the early 1960s on U.S. interplanetary space programs. Beside his space programs he was also an inventor and developed non-space products with his own company Dynamic Development Co. which he founded in the early 1960s. He later became an active amateur photographer and lubrication product entrepreneur. Lally contributed articles for popular space, astrobiology, photography, travel, and archaeology magazines. He was also a speaker at local space exploration and extraterrestrial intelligence (UFO) society meetings where he gave first-hand accounts of the early U.S. space program, commentaries on current U.S. space exploration activities and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.


  1. "Mars And Beyond With Dr. Robert Zubrin". YouTube. October 4, 2018. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  2. @robert_zubrin (April 9, 2019). "Today is my birthday. Hope gave me..." (Tweet) via Twitter.
  3. 1 2 3 Ari Armstrong (June 4, 2019). "Robert Zubrin on the Case for Space: Self in Society #1" . Retrieved June 27, 2019 via YouTube.
  4. Robert Zubrin (April 21, 2005). "Getting Space Exploration Right". Space Daily. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  6. "Robert Zubrin". Nasa. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  7. "Robert Zubrin". Pioneer Astronautics. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  8. Zubrin, Robert (October 10, 2014). "ZUBRIN: Iran is 10 months away from the A-bomb". The Washington Times. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  9. Zubrin, Robert (1996). The Case for Mars. Touchstone.
  10. "Pathfinder - Pioneer Rocketplane". Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  11. "Aerospace engineer bets on space tech to cash in on gas flaring". September 16, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
  12. Zubrin, Robert; Baker, David; Gwynne, Owen (January 7, 1991), "Mars direct - A simple, robust, and cost effective architecture for the Space Exploration Initiative", 29th Aerospace Sciences Meeting, Aerospace Sciences Meetings, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, doi:10.2514/6.1991-329 , retrieved October 1, 2021
  13. "Getting Space Exploration Right - Robert Zubrin". March 25, 2006. Archived from the original on March 25, 2006. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  14. "The American Enterprise: An Energy Revolution". The American Enterprise Online. October 29, 2006. Archived from the original on October 29, 2006. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  15. "The Hydrogen Hoax". The New Atlantis. Retrieved September 17, 2021.
  16. "The Mars Underground". CBC News. September 4, 2010. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  17. "Robert Onion". Frank Black Discopedia. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  18. "Symphony of Science: "The Case for Mars"". June 8, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  19. "r/scifi - 'Pioneer One', the indie sci-fi drama, was released on BitTorrent 6 years ago. Now we have a shot at a big-budget reboot!". reddit. Retrieved June 27, 2019.