About the Book

About the Authors


Title Page


Preparing for Your Trip

Destination Moon

Destination Mercury

Destination Venus

Destination Mars

Destination Jupiter

Destination Saturn

Destination Uranus

Destination Neptune

Destination Pluto


Authors’ Note






THIS BOOK WOULD not exist without the geniuses behind Guerilla Science, an organization that pushes the boundaries of imagination and provides us with a nurturing outlet for our weird ideas. We are eternally grateful to Jen Wong, Mark Rosin, and Zoe Cormier for creating this unique collective in a muddy field in England all the way back in 2008. We are additionally indebted to Louis Buckley, Jenny Jopson, Sarah Barker, Kyle Marian Viterbo, Rachel Karpf Reidy, Pigalle Tavakkoli, and Marissa Chazan for helping keep the torch burning. A special shout-out is due Jenny Jopson, who came up with the original vision for the Intergalactic Travel Bureau, a place where the “retro futurism” of old-school sci-fi could flourish. Mark Rosin has been an especially dear adviser, and instrumental in getting the Intergalactic Travel Bureau off the ground in the United States.

Dozens of people have helped make our unassuming little space travel agency possible at festivals, museums, and disused storefronts in the United States and the United Kingdom. To all of our volunteers, astronomers, astrophysicists, and space travel agents, we are humbled by your tireless commitment to delighting thousands of unsuspecting passersby. We are deeply grateful to Steve Thomas, whose visionary art brings the Intergalactic Travel Bureau to life. Your talent is a constant source of inspiration and without your creations the Intergalactic Travel Bureau would be a cold corpse. We’d especially like to thank Steve for his inhuman patience as he forged art for this book in the face of our endless stream of tweaks, double reversals, scientific nitpicking, and failed creative experimentation.

Special recognition goes to Ferris Jabr, who was there from the beginning and always willing to lend a helping hand, both physically and spiritually, as an intergalactic travel agent and book adviser. To Colleen Cox, who helped lug an ungodly amount of gear onto a ferry boat for our U.S. debut at Governors Island in NYC. To astrophysicist Hanno Rein, one of our first U.S. agents and the creator of the amazing Exoplanet app, which gives visitors to the Intergalactic Travel Bureau an appreciation for the variety of fascinating exoplanetary worlds. To Renée Hložek and Lucianne Walkowicz, agents extraordinaire who provided invaluable support in our early days. To Janusz Jaworski and all the good folks at the chashama arts organization, who provided space for us to create. To Kaitlin Prest and Mitra Kaboli, who helped open up our first pop-up in Manhattan. To Zach Kopciak, the fantastic producer who brought flair and a level of unprecedented customer service to the experience. To our scientists Or Graur, Viviana Acquaviva, Steven Mohammed, Juan Camilo Ibañez-Mejia, Adam Brown, Lewis Dartnell, Adam Stevens, Ann Posada, Sarah Pearson, Federica Bianco, Kurt Hill, Robin Roberts, Andrea Derdzinski, Zephyr Penoyre, and all the other scientists, actors, and volunteers who joined us in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York, and London to plan space holidays. To the MetroPCS guy, who provided sound advice on how to get hardened New Yorkers to consider a vacation to the Moon (and/or switch their phone service). To Linn Splane and Celena Tang, who brought style and grace to alien travel photography. To all of our Kickstarter supporters, clients, and the thousands of visitors who have sent postcards from space, taken pictures with us on the Moon and Mars, and pushed us to consider the infinite mysteries of vacationing in the great void.

We have been honored by all the people who devoted their time, energy, and support to launch this book. We are especially appreciative of the perpetually patient James Hedberg, whose shrewd critique and physics expertise guided our writing, and whose cooking nourished our bodies during the birth of this book. We are grateful to all the scientists and space industry experts who gave interviews or answered questions, including Richard Schmude, Ted Southern, Jonathan McDowell, Joan Hunter, Paul Spudis, Taka Tanaka, Gil Costin, Matt Heverly, Jim Papadopoulos, Geoffrey Landis, Keegan Kirkpatrick, Sarah Fagents, Robert Strom, Denton Ebel, Katherine de Kleer, David Blewett, Tom Stallard, Andrew Ingersoll, Mark Lemmon, Michael Person, Jani Radebaugh, P. J. Blount, Jessica Raddatz, Emily Rauscher, Paul Schenk, Michael Busch, and Tristan Guillot. Thanks to Amanda Moon, who provided valuable feedback and support as we considered how to turn an experience into a book. Thank you as well to all the talented writers and scientists of NeuWrite, who workshopped early chapter drafts.

We are indebted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for the amazing data and high-resolution imagery it provides free for use in the public domain. Note that NASA does not endorse this book in any way, and neither do any of its affiliated institutions.

Special acknowledgment goes to Mara Grunbaum for her support and for introducing us to our agent, Rachel Vogel. Thanks to Katie Peek for introducing us to the art of Steve Thomas and giving design suggestions, and to Irene Pease (the Friendly Neighborhood Astronomer) for checking sections of the book for accuracy. We are indebted to our editor Meg Leder and the entire team at Penguin Random House, who have been nothing short of spectacular from the get-go in their enthusiasm for this project.

Jana Grcevich would like to thank her colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History, especially Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, Neil Tyson, Ashley Pagnotta, Statia Luszcz-Cook, Brian Abbott, Carter Emmart, and the library staff. She would also like to thank her friends and family: Geoff, Sarah, Mira, and Greg Grcevich; Stephanie Wykstra; Dawn Chan; Jocelyn Sessa; Josh Peek; Mark Wheeler; Beckie Wood; Aletta and Richard Tibbetts; and Kristin and Logan Lewis for their essential encouragement and companionship. She continually revels in how lucky she is to have such amazing people in her life.

Olivia Koski would like to thank James for cooking, cleaning, advising, and tending to her and to their newborn babe with little complaint during the extended periods when her face was fixated on a laptop screen. She additionally thanks her parents, siblings, in-laws, extended family, and many cherished friends for their support.


SOME MAY QUESTION the wisdom of creating a vacation guide to the planets when human feet haven’t touched the ground of another world (the Moon) since 1972. If you’re thinking that a space vacation is a distant fantasy, however, remember that one hundred years ago, airplanes were a cutting-edge technology. The fast ones could travel at the “great speed” of 120 miles per hour, bringing a prospective space traveler to Neptune in 2,571 years. In 1989, the Voyager 2 spacecraft reached Neptune in less than twelve years traveling at 42,000 miles per hour. One hundred years from now, who knows how long a trip to Neptune might take? Your space-vacationing great-grandchildren may discover this book in an old Martian library, and smile at our naive vision of the future.

Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves first, humans will go to the places we describe in this book someday, almost without question. With the right resources, and most important the will, we can travel to distant worlds. Some of what we discuss, such as human visits to the Moon and Mars, will probably happen in the coming decades. Other things, such as finding ways for our bodies to withstand the extreme radiation near Jupiter, the conditions of the sun-facing side of Mercury, or the long journey to the outer solar system, may take much longer. In some cases we may continue to use probes and robotic explorers to virtually experience distant planets where human survival is impractical.

We are, at heart, space travel agents. Our job is to sell you on the idea of a space vacation. We’ve created this guide using the best available information on each destination. While we haven’t, technically, been to any of them ourselves, rest assured, we have excellent sources who confirm the accuracy of our descriptions of these holiday locations. In this book, we have embellished certain things such as the existence of buildings, cities, and other human-built infrastructure on other planets and moons. Apart from the remains of probes, rovers, and orbiters, six American flags that are likely bleached white on the Moon, and some minor debris, nothing human-made exists on other planetary bodies, and human feet have not touched any alien world except the Moon. Any bit of fiction you do find in this book is informed by scientific and technological expertise, and meant to illustrate the real experience you might have on your vacation.

How can you recognize what is real and what is not? Natural properties of destinations, such as temperature, length of day, climate, etc., are based on the latest scientific research, and we rely on physics to describe how things behave. References to missions, probes, landers, and certain specific rovers are real. The landscapes we portray are real. Names of geographic locations are mostly given according to the International Astronomical Union standards. We chose to use the English translation when possible for readability. The Latin name, commonly used in scientific literature, is often listed in parentheses. Artistic liberties that we took with reality include: references to cities underground and airborne; local rumors; the possibility of renting rovers, submarines, airships, hover cars, or other vehicles used for navigating alien landscapes; the mere likelihood of surviving exposure to certain types of environments; and the ease with which you can expect to travel to various locations in our solar system.

Creative flourishes aside, we’re at the dawn of a space exploration boom. In the short time since Guerilla Science opened its first pop-up Intergalactic Travel Bureau to plan space vacations for the public in 2011, there have been incredible gains in humankind’s knowledge of neighboring planets. Scientific missions have brought back images from Pluto, Saturn, and Jupiter, and landed a robot on a distant comet. Thousands of exoplanets, those mysterious worlds orbiting distant stars, have been detected, and more are waiting to be found. The more we discover about other worlds, the more we come to reflect on our own place in the cosmos. Anyone who delves deep into the conditions present on other planets and the extreme measures necessary to keep humans alive on them soon realizes how rare and precious Earth is and how imperative it is that we protect Earth’s environment for future generations. The goal of vacationing in space is not at odds with solving our many pressing social, economic, and environmental problems back home. If anything it helps bring into focus the importance of protecting our planet so we have a place to come home to.

As scientists continue making new discoveries about places beyond Earth, and as we struggle to find ways to protect the only planet we know of that is hospitable to human life, entrepreneurs are figuring out ways to make space vacations a reality. Elon Musk’s company SpaceX delivers cargo to the International Space Station, and hopes eventually to deliver people to Mars. Other companies, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, are racing to be the first to bring private citizens to the edge of space. A company called World View wants to give tourists a view of the curvature of the earth with high-altitude balloon rides, and Bigelow Aerospace, run by budget hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, aspires to rent out inflatable hotel rooms that orbit our planet. These companies are true-life pioneers of the space vacation industry. It’s only a matter of time before you, dear traveler, might take a trip.

Your rocket ship awaits.

for Viola and James, my fellow travel companions


for my father and mother, who sang me I See the Moon



ALL GOOD THINGS must come to an end. As the date of your return to Earth looms closer, your anticipation will build. Keeping busy can help with the wait. Reconnect with your friends and family back home, read guidebooks about Earth, and visit your favorite tourist spots one last time. Know that from the earliest era of space travel, astronauts have emphasized how their journeys led them to appreciate Earth even more.

As you begin your journey home, the pale blue dot that you’ve watched in the starry skies from alien spheres will grow larger. You’ll feel the ache of an epic journey coming to an end, and the blissful realization that you’ll soon rest your head in your own bed, in your home gravity, for the first time in perhaps years or even decades. As you near Earth, you’ll see the razor-thin glow of the atmosphere lining the globe, and wonder at just how important this seemingly small feature is to the trillions of life-forms beneath it.

The transition back to being an Earthling isn’t always smooth. British astronaut Tim Peake described the process of returning to Earth after a six-month trip as the “world’s worst hangover.” The longer you’ve been in space, the longer it will take you to adjust physically and mentally to life on Earth. You may be weak and uncoordinated from living in microgravity, and it can take years to recover your prior strength. Walk with care and avoid impacts after you return home.

Your weakened bones, particularly your hips, may break under stress. In the first days and weeks back, you might have difficulty walking or be a bit clumsy. You’ll forget that you can’t gently push off any surface to get yourself across the room. More than one wineglass has been broken when someone forgot that he couldn’t release his grasp of it for a moment while fetching a fresh bottle of wine. Things must be set down on surfaces here on Earth.

Many long-term space travelers experience culture shock. Depending on how long you’ve been away, the Earth you return to can be very different from the one you left, making you feel like a time-traveling outsider. Your taste in music and fashion might lag years behind the dominant culture’s.

If you’ve been away for a very long time, you may have forgotten what it feels like to live in a completely natural environment that supports human life. Months, years, or even decades of living in climate-controlled habitats will leave your head spinning when you confront the fluttering weather outside on a typical autumn day, when temperatures can sometimes rise and fall ten, twenty, or even thirty degrees. Whether you’re from the hottest deserts of the Sahara or the coldest corners of Siberia, you may even find yourself enjoying the extremes of your native environment for the first time, excited to strip down to your underwear to keep cool in the stifling heat or the chore of scraping ice off your car windshield at five o’clock in the morning.

It’s possible you’ll decide to relocate when you return, settling somewhere near the equator, where it’s warm year round and you never need a coat. Or you might be excited to see how you fare at Earth’s poles, where survival is tough by Earth standards but comparatively easy by alien standards.

Regardless of where you end up, you’ll most likely enjoy Earth’s four distinct seasons like you never have before, reveling in the dirty snow-covered streets in winter, the slushy mud of spring, the sticky days of summer, and the bitter wind gusts of fall.

No matter what time of year you return, or what type of weather you encounter, you’ll be surprised at how excited you become over little things. You may find yourself leaving home without a jacket or even shoes in poor weather, because you want to feel everything that nature has to offer. You’ll be amazed at friends who complain about the cold, or the heat, or the storms, which seem mild in comparison to the space weather you faced during your holiday away from Earth. You’ll probably find it hard to stop looking at the big blue sky and white puffy water clouds within it. When the sun goes down, you’ll stare at the blackness of the night and pinpoints of stars, and marvel at the places you have been. It will be challenging to keep yourself from getting into long conversations with strangers about the beauty of the universe, the fragility of humankind, and the urgency with which we need to do everything we can to protect our home planet.

On the other hand, you may become quickly irritated with nuisances of getting around on Earth. In cities, traffic jams are common, especially at certain times of day. Airports are often crowded, and you will be regularly subjected to security checks. Travel by water can be slightly more pleasant, but it is slow and service is less regular. Do your best to plan travel during off-hours, when fewer of the 7 billion people of Earth are on the go. Any kind of crowd may leave you breathless and prone to a panic attack, especially if you’ve been on vacation in a more remote area of the solar system where there were few people.

You’ll be struck by Earth’s stunning variety of natural beauty. You may have forgotten what the sound of rushing water was like, or that huge swaths of land could be covered entirely in lush greenery. Forests may make you anxious at first, and you may feel more comfortable in wide-open deserts. It will be hard not to compare craters, canyons, mountain ranges, and volcanoes to those you saw on your trip. Now that you’re back, spend time enjoying Earth! Many natural features on our planet rival the sights you took in during your space vacation, though anyone returning from Jupiter will always long for its bright auroras, which dwarf the best of Earth’s.

After every great vacation, returning to normal life can be bittersweet. More than likely, you’ll have to change jobs because of extended absence. Take this time to reevaluate what is important. You may decide to commit yourself to improving conditions for the people of Earth, or to preserving the delicate environment that so effectively keeps the inhabitants of the planet alive. No matter what you decide to do with yourself as you get back into the routines of life on Earth, look back on your space vacation as the one time when you really, truly left it all behind. When life gets stressful, look up into the night sky, and picture yourself among the stars.


Imagine taking a hike along the windswept red plains of Mars to dig for signs of life, or touring one of Jupiter’s sixty-four moons where you can take photos of its swirling storms. For a mini-break on a tight budget, the Moon is quite majestic and very quiet if you can make it during the off-season.

Beautifully illustrated and packed with real-world science, Vacation Guide to the Solar System is the essential planning guide for the curious space adventurer, covering all of the essentials for your next voyage, how to get there, and what to do when you arrive. Written by Olivia Koski, one of the creators of the Guerilla Science collective, and Jana Grcevich, an astronomer from the American Museum of Natural History, this tongue-in-cheek reference guide is an imaginative exploration into the ‘what ifs’ of space travel, sharing fascinating facts about the planets in our solar system and even some moons!


Destination Moon

OF THE NUMEROUS moons of the solar system, there is only one called the Moon: Earth’s moon. It formed early in our planet’s history, when a space rock the size of Mars slammed into Earth. The catastrophic collision thrust molten rock into space, making rings that eventually formed a satellite that’s been orbiting Earth ever since.

Despite the familiarity of the Moon in Earth’s sky, visitors are shocked to experience its true alien nature. In the words of Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “Nothing prepared me for the starkness of the terrain. It was barren and rolling, and the horizon was much closer than I was used to.”

Often the first stop on a longer journey, the Moon serves as an introduction to the strange world of low gravity and the challenges of traveling in the vacuum of space. Highlights include humbling views of the crescent Earth, taking a Moon hopper to visit the historic Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility, and the sometimes fraught process of learning to walk and play sports in airless terrain where you weigh less than one-fifth what you do back home.


DIAMETER: 25 percent of Earth’s

MASS: 1 percent of Earth’s

COLOR: Moon gray

SPEED AROUND EARTH: About 2,300 miles per hour

GRAVITATIONAL PULL: A 150-pound person weighs 25 pounds

AIR QUALITY: Traces of helium-4, neon-20, hydrogen, and argon-40



TEMPERATURE (HIGH, LOW, AVERAGE): 240, -290, -4 degrees Fahrenheit

DAY LENGTH: 708 hours and 54 minutes

YEAR LENGTH: 1 Earth year



DISTANCE FROM EARTH: 222,000 to 253,000 miles



SEASONS: Very mild


SUNSHINE: About the same as on Earth, but harsher light

UNIQUE FEATURES: Tycho Crater in the southern hemisphere

GOOD FOR: A quick getaway

Weather and Climate

Since there is no atmosphere on the Moon, there is no weather, and many visitors find the quiet surroundings rather relaxing. You won’t need to worry about seasons, either. The Moon’s axis barely has any tilt—1.5 degrees—so the amount of sunshine you get stays the same throughout the year, no matter where you are. Though you won’t encounter any unexpected storms, the temperatures fluctuate wildly, from 240 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to -290 at night, making it rather bothersome to pack for outings. It’s like preparing for an excursion to Earth’s hottest desert with an overnight in the Antarctic. Fortunately this dramatic temperature swing only occurs every fourteen Earth days, so you have time to adjust to the new conditions. Though space is by nature a frigid place, and anywhere you go you’re likely to encounter record-breaking cold snaps, on the Moon it can get as cold as it does anywhere else in the solar system: -400 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s Pluto cold. Those who love this numbing weather can find it at the Moon’s south pole, in craters that are so deep that the sun’s rays can’t reach them.

If you prefer moderate temperatures, the best time to venture outside is during lunar dawn. Just be careful—at dawn, the peace on the Moon is sometimes disrupted by moonquakes, which are triggered when the cold crust is warmed by the sun for the first time in two Earth weeks. These and other quakes that start deep below the surface—or those caused by meteorite hits—are mostly mild and harmless. It’s the shallow ones ten or twenty miles underground that can rattle heavy furniture and shake buildings. Because the Moon is so dry and frigid, it rings like a bell, and quakes can last up to ten minutes. If you find yourself caught in one, don’t panic. Stay calm and try to enjoy the ride.

To get the full Moon experience, be sure to stay a full lunar day. It’s longer than it sounds—a day on the Moon lasts almost thirty Earth days. That will give you plenty of time to explore both the near and far sides.

When to Go

If you haven’t yet been to the Moon, you should go immediately. Close this book, call your local intergalactic travel agent, and reserve a trip. What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present, since the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of one and a half inches a year. Wait eight years and you’ll have to travel an extra foot.

Going to the Moon is like traveling around the world ten times, since that’s how far you will have traveled once you arrive. Rockets travel far faster than planes, and you’ll be there in just a few days, marveling at its gray surface from seventy miles away. If there’s a place you want to see while the sun’s out, plan ahead since the lunar night lasts so long. If you stay a whole Earth month, you’re guaranteed to get a sunlit view of your favorite spots. Check the illumination conditions against your itinerary.

Getting There

Your journey to the Moon begins at a spaceport. Spaceports are just like airports. In most cases, you’ll depart from a launchpad, rather than a runway. They tend to be in the desert or near bodies of water, just in case a rocket explodes or crashes at takeoff. You can take a preholiday outing near your launch site before you depart, since spaceports are built in areas known for clear skies and calm weather. These may be your last memories of Earth.

Breaking the bond of Earth’s gravity will require you to attain the great speed of 25,020 miles per hour, known as Earth’s escape velocity. To achieve this speed, you will be strapped to a (hopefully) controlled explosion. A single launch from Earth takes almost half the energy that a flight all the way to the edge of the solar system requires. This is the origin of the old spacefarer’s saying, “Half the journey is getting to orbit.” You’ll save money by choosing flights that depart near the equator. Taking off from there on an eastward launch gives your rocket a kick from the spin of the earth.

Jet engines are great for taking you from one side of the earth to the other, but they require something in short supply in space: air, specifically the oxygen found in air. Chemical rocket fuel that powers many rocket ships provides its own oxygen to create thrust. For a short trip to the Moon, you don’t have to worry about fueling up along the way. If you’re headed to more distant settings, the basic ingredients for chemical rocket fuel are available on many terrestrial worlds, which means you don’t have to pack all your fuel with you.

The computers that brought the first visitors to the Moon were much less powerful than your smartphone. The 240,000-mile journey takes three days, but if you’re just passing by without stopping, you can get there in as little as nine hours. It’s hard to get lost on your way to the Moon, since you can see it from Earth and it’s a simple matter of keeping your ship pointed in the right direction.

En route, watch out for the Van Allen radiation belts, which are zones of trapped particles. They can wreak havoc on electronics, though they appear to cause little harm to humans. There are two main sections: One is 400 to 6,000 miles above Earth’s surface, while the other is between 8,400 and 36,000 miles from it. Apollo mission scientists were initially concerned they might cause health problems for astronauts, but onboard radiation detectors showed that radiation remained at safe levels during the crossing. You might want to see which of your travel companions can hold their breath the longest as you sail through.

Once you’ve reached orbit around the Moon, take part in the traditional celebration of cracking a bottle of champagne. Just be careful, as opening a bottle can be a dangerous endeavor in the low-pressure environment of your spaceship. Watch out for the cork as it shoots out of the bottle at speed, as well as the inevitable floating blobs of bubbly.

The Moon is just a short few days’ trip from Earth.

When You Arrive

Many find that during their first close encounter with the Moon they experience a delightful combination of recognition and otherworldliness. The familiar features of the man in the moon resolve slowly into vast dark plains, expansive craters, and mountain ranges. Upon arrival, some visitors settle into a low orbit around the Moon’s equator. Don’t rush to reach the surface; many sights are best seen from far above, and you’ll have plenty of time to explore them up close.