Robert Zubrin

Robert Zubrin is President of Pioneer Astronautics, an aerospace R&D company located in Lakewood, Colorado. He is also the founder and President of the Mars Society. Formerly a Staff Engineer at Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, he holds a Masters degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Washington. Zubrin is the author of 20 patents and over 200 published technical and non-technical papers in the field of space exploration and technology.

In addition to his many technical publications, Dr. Zubrin is the author of nine books, including “The Case for Mars: How We Shall Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must,” published by Simon and Schuster’s Free Press Division in Oct. 1996, “Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization,” published by Tarcher Putnam in Aug. 1999, “Mars on Earth: Adventures of Space Pioneers in the High Arctic,” published by Tarcher Penguin in Sept. 2003, “Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror,” published by Prometheus Books in November 2007, the humorous “How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surving and Thriving on the Red Planet,” published by Random House in December 2008,“Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism,” published by Encounter Books in 2012, and “The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility,” published by Prometheus Books in 2019.

Since founding Pioneer Astronautics in January 1996, Dr. Zubrin has served as the Principal Investigator of over fifty research and development projects in areas including spacecraft and launch vehicle propulsion systems, Mars and Lunar in-situ resource utilization technology, EVA life support and propulsion, and robotic exploration systems. As leader of the Mars Society he led the construction of two Mars analog research stations – one in the Canadian high Arctic in 2000 and the other in the American desert in 2001 – and has overseen a program involving over 200 simulated Mars exploration missions at those stations during the period since. Prior to working at Lockheed Martin he worked in a number of areas, including thermonuclear fusion, nuclear power plant safety, and as a high school science teacher.


What is your background, where did you grow up?

I was born in Brooklyn, New York.


When did you first become interested in space?

I was an especially early reader and by age five I had already read a lot of science fiction. Then Sputnik happened, and I was exhilarated, because it meant these stories were going to become real. My father further encouraged me by buying me a telescope.

In college the real world got to me. To me, space exploration was for movie stars and “those” people who were on TV. It couldn’t be real for me. So I gave up on that dream and became a science teacher. 

In 1983 I had an awakening of sorts and when to grad school for an advanced engineering degree. It was at that time I heard of the the Mars underground and linked up with them. Then I got a job at Martin Marietta and I wrote the Mars Direct plan and started to become quite well known in space circles.

In 1996 I became an entrepreneur and formed Pioneer Astronautics which I still run today.

We had received 4,000 letters I published The Case for Mars. This led us to think that we should have a society for Mars. We had our first initial meeting of the Mars Society in Boulder in 1998.


What do you think the biggest issue facing the industry today?

Entrepreneurial space was not real twenty years ago. Now with Elon and SpaceX is has become real. He did what he said out to do and at 1/3 the time and 1/10 the cost of what had become accepted as normal in aerospace. What he has achieved is remarkable. We need to take advantage of what he and other entrepreneurs are doing by have NASA adopt an approach to getting missions done that rewards merit. Our current government run system does not reward merit in the same way. We need to let the entrepreneurs do more.


What do you like to do for fun?

Hiking. Skiing. Writing. Disturbing the universe. Being an agitator.


What is your favorite movie and why?

Casablanca because I generally have a positive view of human nature and in the movie the characters rise above to be much greater than people expect.

What are some of your favorite books?

Lee Smolin Life of the Cosmos
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo

What are you reading now?

The Eagle Unbowed by Halik Kochanski. It’s about Poland in World War 2.

Where do you see the space industry in ten years?

In 10 years the entrepreneurial space revolution will have succeeded in the US and be well on its way in Europe. Musk has inspired many other SpaceXs including in other industries and they will take hold.

Spacecraft will be radically cheaper, we will have a moon base, and we will have landed on Mars.

What would you tell people just starting out in the space industry?

Join the revolution. There are lots of things they can do. There is something for everybody.

Enlist under a banner an existing venture or start a new one. Or start with an old guard, get some experience and then create your own company.


What three words best describe you?

Optimist. Humanist. Rebel.

More by T-MINUS 10