Robert Zubrin
Photo of Zubrin by the Mars Society
Born (1952-04-09) April 9, 1952 (age 71)
Alma materUniversity of Rochester
University of Washington
(MS, PhD)
Known forMars Direct
Mars Society
The Case for Mars
Energy Victory
SpouseHope Zubrin
Scientific career
FieldsAerospace engineering
InstitutionsMartin Marietta
Pioneer Astronautics

Robert Zubrin (/ˈzbrɪn/; born April 9,[1] 1952[2]) is an American aerospace engineer, author,[3] 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[2] on April 9, 1952. His father was descended from Russian Jewish immigrants.[5]

Qualifications and professional career

Zubrin was awarded his first patent at age 20 in 1972 for Three Player Chess.

Zubrin holds a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Rochester (1974); he was a science teacher for 7 years before becoming an engineer.[2] He earned 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's inventions 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]

Zubrin also formed Pioneer Astronautics (formerly Pioneer Invention) in 1996, a small, hands-on R&D company committed to developing innovative technologies to further space exploration and improve life on earth.[12] The company relied primarily on small business research contracts and tackled a large variety of space-relevant problems. [13] In April 2023, the company was the subject of an OSHA investigation and received multiple serious safety citations; Zubrin was ultimately terminated from the company due to misconduct related to the investigation.[14]

He continues to be involved with the Mars Society and is deeply invested in pro-Ukraine activism. [15]

The ethics of terraforming

Main article: 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 aged 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]

In Martin Burckhardt's science fiction novel Score, the Mars Expedition Astronauts send 90-year-old Robert Zubrin a video reply thanking him for his work over the years after receiving a congratulatory one from him for their successful landing on Mars.[p. 227]

Zubrin was featured in a 2007 CBC News documentary special, The Passionate Eye, titled "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.[citation needed]

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


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (August 2022)




  1. ^ @robert_zubrin (April 9, 2019). "Today is my birthday. Hope gave me ..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  2. ^ a b c Armstrong, Ari (June 4, 2019). Robert Zubrin on the Case for Space. Self in Society #1. Archived from the original on December 11, 2021. Retrieved June 27, 2019 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ "Mckay". National Space Grant Foundation. Retrieved July 20, 2022.
  4. ^ Zubrin, Robert (April 21, 2005). "Getting Space Exploration Right". Space Daily (Press release). Archived from the original on March 15, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  5. ^ "Charles Zubrin - American life". June 9, 2016. 342127. Archived from the original on July 18, 2022. Retrieved May 24, 2020.
  6. ^ "Robert Zubrin". NASA. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  7. ^ "Robert Zubrin". Pioneer Astronautics. Archived from the original on February 20, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  8. ^ Zubrin, Robert (September 13, 2014). "Iran is 10 months away from the A-bomb". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  9. ^ Zubrin, Robert (1996). The Case for Mars. Touchstone.
  10. ^ "Pathfinder - Pioneer Rocketplane". Archived from the original on August 24, 2021. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  11. ^ "Aerospace engineer bets on space tech to cash in on gas flaring". September 16, 2014. Archived from the original on September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
  12. ^ "About Us". Pioneer Astronautics. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  13. ^ "Pioneer Astronautics Research and Development Contract List". Pioneer Astronautics. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  14. ^ "OSHA Inspection Detail". August 2023.
  15. ^ "Zubrin on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  16. ^ "The Mars Underground". CBC News. September 4, 2010. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  17. ^ "Robert Onion". discopedia. Frank Black. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved July 14, 2013.
  18. ^ The Case for Mars (music video). Symphony of Science. June 8, 2010. Archived from the original on October 7, 2021. Retrieved October 7, 2021 – via
  19. ^ 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. 29th Aerospace Sciences Meeting. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. doi:10.2514/6.1991-329. Archived from the original on October 1, 2021. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  20. ^ Zubrin, Robert (March 25, 2006). "Getting space exploration right". The New Atlantis. Archived from the original on March 25, 2006. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  21. ^ "An Energy Revolution". The American Enterprise (online ed.). October 29, 2006. Archived from the original on October 29, 2006. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  22. ^ Burckhardt, Martin (2015). "Score" (Book). (in German). Knaus (published February 9, 2015). ISBN 978-3-641-15640-4. Retrieved July 30, 2023.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)