I mention Sirens of Titan because it is a curious meditation on the concept of a 'manned mission to mars'. Published 1959.
I strongly urge a (re)reading while we have robots on the martian surface..
Synopsis from the palm digital media web site;
"Winston Niles Rumfoord had run his private space ship right into the heart of an uncharted chrono-synclastic infundibulum two days out of Mars. Only his dog had been along. Now Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog Kazak existed as wave phenomena -- apparently pulsing in a distorted spiral with its origin in the Sun and its terminal in Betelgeuse.
The earth was about to intercept that spiral."
The Sirens of Titan was perhaps the novel that began the Vonnegut phenomenon with readers. The story is a fabulous trip, spinning madly through space and time in pursuit of nothing less than a fundamental understanding of the meaning of life.
It takes place at a time in the future, when "only the human soul remained terra incognita... the Nightmare Ages, falling roughly, give or take a few years, between the Second World War and the Third Great Depression." The villainous and super rich Malachi Constant is offered a chance to journey into the far reaches of outer space, to eventually live on titan surrounded by three beautiful sirens. There is the proverbial "small print" with this incredible offer, which Constant turns down, setting in motion a fantastic chain of events that only Vonnegut could imagine.
The result is an uproarious, freewheeling inquiry into the very reason we exist and about how we participate and matter in the scheme of the universe.
I also highly recommend Cat's Cradle, Timequake and of course Slaughterhouse 5.
If anyone wants to discuss Vonnegut with me I'd be glad to.
Curiously however, a certain other member of these message boards dismissed completely the intrusion of Vonnegut's 'fiction' in a discussion in another thread about views of America - neglecting the fact that a man who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during it's fire-bombing, worked as a PR copy-writer for General Electric in the late forties/early fifties, and whose brother, the physicist Bernard Vonnegut, invented silver iodide cloud-seeding - might have anything useful to say on war, industry, science and government.(!)