Saturday, November 19, 2011

Life on Mars: Big Dig Figs and Facts

Earlier this year, I blogged about Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier (April 2011), an original Young Adult science fiction anthology edited by Australian anthologist Jonathan Strahan that's comprised of works from a range of international writers, including the late Kage Baker, Alastair Reynolds, Nnedi Okorafor, Stephen Baxter, Nancy Kress, Chris Robertson, Rachel Swirsky, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

One of the more interesting tales is the gritty “Digging,” penned by British science fiction novelist Ian McDonald. Set on a partially terraformed Mars, the plot revolves around a young girl named Tash Gelem-Opunyo, who lives in the excavating city of West Diggory on the slope of the Big Dig. How big is the Big Dig? Check out these figures and facts:
Population: 1, 833, divided between the four Excavating Cities of (clockwise) Southdelving, West Diggory, North Cutter, and A.R.E.A (Ares Reengineering of Environment and Atmosphere). Total Martian population: 5, 217.

Elevation: at the digging head as of Martian Year 112, Janulum 1: minus twenty three kilometers below Martian Mean Gravity Surface (no sea level). Same date, highest point of Mount Impossible: fifteen kilometers above MGS.

Diameter of the Big Dig at Martian MGS: 516 kilometers.

Circumference of the Big Dig at Martian MGS: 1, 622 kilometers.

Angle of Big Dig Excavation Surface: 5.754 degrees. That’s pretty gentle. The scoopline can’t handle more than an 8 degree slope. To the casual human eye — one that hasn’t grown up inside the gentle dish of the Big Dig — that would look almost flat. But it’s not flat. That’s why it’s the key figure: those 5.754 degrees are going to make Mars habitable.

Date of commencement of the Big Dig: AlterMarch 23, Martian Year 70. Two thirty in the afternoon, on schedule, the scooplines excavated and the bucket teeth took their first bites of Isidis Planitia.

Volume of the Big Dig: as of above date: 1, 813, 000 cubic kilometers. All piled up neatly into Mount Impossible, the ring-shaped mountain that surrounds the Big Dig like the wall of an old impact crater. Not entirely surrounds. Mount Impossible has been constructed with four huge valleys: Windrush, Zephyr, Cyroco, and Storm of the Black Plums: howling, wind-haunted, storm-scoured canyons — the same wind that sings over the tombs of the diggers who have died in the course of the great excavation and unfailingly stirs the flags and streamers of the mobile cities far below.

Total mass of Martian surface excavated in the Big Dig to date: 7.1 x 1015 tons.
According to McDonald,  “Digging” is “a story about how complex it can be growing up in a confined space and how much you can see and what lies over that horizon. It’s about learning about disappointments, and how much of life consists of digging holes and then filling them in again.”

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