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How We'll Live on Mars

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Award-winning journalist Stephen Petranek says humans will live on Mars by 2027. Now he makes the case that living on Mars is not just plausible, but inevitable.

It sounds like science fiction, but Stephen Petranek considers it fact: Within twenty years, humans will live on Mars. We'll need to. In this sweeping, provocative book that mixes business, science, and human reporting, Petranek makes the case that living on Mars is an essential back-up plan for humanity and explains in fascinating detail just how it will happen.

The race is on. Private companies, driven by iconoclastic entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, and Sir Richard Branson; Dutch reality show and space mission Mars One; NASA; and the Chinese government are among the many groups competing to plant the first stake on Mars and open the door for human habitation. Why go to Mars? Life on Mars has potential life-saving possibilities for everyone on earth. Depleting water supplies, overwhelming climate change, and a host of other disasters — from terrorist attacks to meteor strikes — all loom large. We must become a space-faring species to survive. We have the technology not only to get humans to Mars, but to convert Mars into another habitable planet. It will likely take 300 years to "terraform" Mars, as the jargon goes, but we can turn it into a veritable second Garden of Eden. And we can live there, in specially designed habitations, within the next twenty years.

In this exciting chronicle, Petranek introduces the circus of lively characters all engaged in a dramatic effort to be the first to settle the Red Planet. How We'll Live on Mars brings firsthand reporting, interviews with key participants, and extensive research to bear on the question of how we can expect to see life on Mars within the next twenty years.

96 pages, Hardcover

First published October 7, 2014

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Stephen L. Petranek

9 books19 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 236 reviews
Profile Image for Petra X on a jet plane to civilization.
2,427 reviews34.1k followers
February 10, 2017
What is it with journalists writing books? They are used to writing short-format articles with a catchy headline, interesting first paragraph and then perhaps the history of the subject and details revealed until the final summing up. This doesn't translate into a book at all even though the author tries hard to extend the format to book-length.

The catchy headline is the title, How We'll Live on Mars. The history, which is extensive and no more than mildly interesting concentrates on Wernher von Braun. The delightful von Braun was a Nazi, member of the SS and rocket scientist. Rather than prosecute him after the war, the Americans brought him to the US, gave him citizenship, and a life of prestige and luxury as director of a NASA program designing space ships.

Most of the rest of the book is extrapolating present technology to the future, which is more in the realms of fantasy than reality, but then journalists are often very familiar with that, and talking of what life will be like on a Mars transformed by 300 years of biological modification by people - scifi.

It isn't a good book. It isn't an interesting book. And it isn't a book about how we'll live on Mars that is likely to be have any more basis in fact than Ray Bradbury's wonderfully inventive and lyrical The Martian Chronicles. Petranek scarcely mentions something which Bradbury explores at length. Man's nature and his propensity for exporting his problems and prejudices wherever he goes, terrestrially or to Mars.

3 stars because it wasn't a bad read and was quite well written.
Profile Image for Claudia Putnam.
Author 5 books125 followers
September 10, 2016
Ish. Very light and glossy. Plus annoyingly proselytizing. Full of unsupported and unsupportable assumptions/assertions, such as that with 50K people on Mars we could preserve the sum of human wisdom for eternity, or something like that. Really? Preserve all of what the Amazonian tribes know? Preserve which and what wisdoms, exactly?

That is, the lens was, well, a lens. I'm guessing he means the wisdom that brought you the iPhone and well, Mars. Also the wisdom that messed up Earth and necessitated Mars...

And the reasoning is all so circular. We need Mars because we messed up Earth. And to get Mars we need to keep doing all the stuff that messed up Earth, and even do it faster. We need nuclear reactors, we need radiation, we need GMO, we need CFCs. We can't be sure these things won't run away with us on Mars, and also we can't afford to worry about that, because we need to be obsessed with getting results as fast as possible. Also, NASA has to lift the restrictions on how much radiation humans can absorb, not because humans can absorb more radiation, but because that's the only way to allow humans to get to Mars--they will, just in fact, absorb more radiation than the allowable--the safe--limits in the course of the journey. Is that safe? Well, no, never mind, it's not, but oh well, that's what we need to do. Well, what about reproduction? Can humans then have good genes if they've been toasted this way? Let's not talk about that, I guess.

Another interesting inversion occurs when he discusses emigration. In all the historical models of colonization/emigration, we've had the Old Countries unload the riffraff to the New Worlds. That way, the Old Country gets to stretch its legs and the New World benefits (well, except for the indigenous peoples) by having all these desperate people arrive on its shores who have nothing to do but go forward. They HAVE to make it work because they can't go back.

In the SpaceX model, it's the middle class that would be exported to Mars. I suppose it's somewhat the same in that the tickets are one way and even if someone could buy a return ticket, it would be for the most part impractical to return. For most people, affording the $500K emigration price with enough left over to invest in a living on Mars--a small business, say--would mean selling all their assets. So, what if the world sends a lot of its middle class to Mars? Who's left on Earth? Not the right people to save it, probably. The very rich, who don't have to save it, and the very poor, who cannot.

That seems sad. For one thing, it's not ENOUGH people... it would be better to send a couple of billion people, to right the ecological imbalance we currently face, and also to send those who are most desperate to have better lives now. Those who are homeless, stateless, or casteless, those who live where the ecosystems are already failing. I realize that with the cost of interplanetary travel what it is today, it's pretty much impossible to offer it to the "tired, the poor," etc, but wouldn't it be better, if we could, to provide slots to those with the least opportunity on Earth?

At any rate, I can't share his sense of urgency about colonizing Mars. I'm as curious as anyone. I agree it should happen, one of these days. I agree that humanity will eventually HAVE to go there. For self-preservation. And I certainly think we will have to start mining asteroids, whether using Mars as a base or not. Mars may be a place we will live; it will certainly be a place we will work. But I think we should try to understand what's already there--and what WAS there--before we start ripping into the place and turning it into an Earth analog.

One comment that deeply disturbed me was the dismissive statement that NASA's tremendously successful three rovers (compare with something like 64 Russian attempts that have ALL failed) have covered an "unimpressive" amount of territory. These rovers have been exhaustively covering the ground they're assigned to. There are 20-minute communication delays each way, so AI has to make decisions during the 40 minute lags. Any number of things could go wrong with the instrumentation, mechanics, and software. And who wants to miss something important in the Mars environment? It's all new stuff! NASA has done a great job with this. More importantly, it's doing a scientific job, which an organization with corporate, colonial objectives might not do.

The idea that the sun will explode and this is why we will have to go to space made me laugh out loud. THAT is SO far out there that we really can cool our jets... We have millions--actually billions--of years before that's an issue, and it's so unlikely that humans will be around by that time anyway. We can devolve into the stone age and re-evolve to the space age a few times over. The sun's extinction is the wrong whip for human space exploration.

Profile Image for Figgy.
678 reviews219 followers
August 8, 2017
Many years ago, when the various Mars orbiters and landers were but drawings on paper, NASA made an important decision – to “follow the water.” The goal wasn’t to focus on colonizing a planet; it was intended to help in the hunt for alien life. No water, no life. It now seems a bit ironic that NASA’s insistence on investigating whether or not there is life on Mars has in fact led us to a completely different understanding: that there can be life on Mars – human life.

Stephen Petranek offers a crash course on humanity’s history with Mars, including details of the beginning of rocket science, all the way through to the steps we need to make in order to secure a future for our species on the red planet, all while being a relatively easy read which is unlikely to go over anyone’s head.

Recently, after one of his rockets exploded just above its launch pad, Elon Musk wryly tweeted: “Rockets are tricky.” He’s right, close to two-thirds of all the attempts to get probes to Mars have failed.

Nevertheless, the development of two different spacecraft that could get humans to Mars – SpaceX’s Dragon capsules and NASA’s Orion – has changed the basic question that’s been floating around since Das Marsprojekt was written: Can we get to Mars? The answer is yes. The new question: Can we live on Mars? The answer to that is yes, too, but as Elon Musk might say, it’s tricky.

The space race is on once more, with private companies (driven by iconoclastic entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson); Dutch reality show / space mission Mars One; NASA and the Chinese government among the many groups competing to plant the first stake on Mars and open the door for human habitation.

The rest of this review can be found here!
Profile Image for Sleepless Dreamer.
852 reviews221 followers
October 2, 2021
This book made me want to focus my entire life on space exploration although I have virtually no skills for that. Review to come!
Profile Image for Matt The British Reader.
146 reviews36 followers
January 13, 2023
“If we get it wrong, if we repeat the mistakes of our past, the consequences could be devastating. But if we get it right, the potential benefits to the future of humanity are astonishing.”

This book was awesome. It contained lots of interesting predictions for how humanity will evolve to live on Mars (and beyond). However, I gave it four stars because much of the book was written a few years ago and some of the predictions are now outdated.

Regardless, it's a good book that's short & concise.
Profile Image for Barry Hammond.
575 reviews26 followers
July 12, 2015
This caught my eye because, several weeks back, I'd read "The Martian" by Andy Weir, which is about all the things that can go wrong with a Mars mission. Wondering what a positive, factual view might look like, I picked up this TED talk by Stephen Petranek. It's an interesting take on the past, present, and future of Mars exploration full of fascinating facts. I still think it's a pretty hostile environment, where any inevitable mistake or accident will result in death but man does like to explore and that coupled with greed and expansion of knowledge will probably eventually take us out there. - BH.
Profile Image for Jackie B!.
30 reviews5 followers
July 21, 2015
How We'll Live On Mars is a small book but an interesting read! I got this book (really it's a TED talk put into book form) from the publishers booth at a local convention and just threw it into my bag along with all my other little freebies and thought nothing of it until I got home. When I actually pulled it out and read the dust jacket I was instantly intrigued! Petranek outlines all the questions and possible answers about how we'll live on Mars in this book. Now I can't wait to move to the red planet.
Profile Image for Gendou.
585 reviews261 followers
August 30, 2015
This book details the history of space travel from Wernher von Braun to SpaceX. It goes over the current plans to send a peopled mission to Mars, including Mars One. But there's little to no talk about actually *living* on Mars.

Nothing is covered in depth. Nothing original or new is discussed. There's nothing in this book you can't learn from browsing Wikipedia. This book has little to no value to those who are already interested in space travel. It's also a little too boring to be good for inspiring people to be interested in space travel.
Profile Image for Amiad.
397 reviews8 followers
July 12, 2017
סיכום מדעי קצר ומעניין כיצד נגיע למאדים, איך נחיה שם ולמה לנו לעשות את זה.
Profile Image for Frederick Gault.
841 reviews8 followers
August 13, 2015
A very lightweight overview of the issues around putting humans on Mars. The author skips over the daunting barriers to success with a wave of the hand. The money to put a handful of people on Mars is staggering, the reasons for going are poorly defined. The idea that a colony on Mars would be profitable is hard to believe. But most annoying is the idea that we need Mars as a "backup" for the human race. Forget taking care of the planet we already have! We'll just go to Mars and spend Trillions of dollars and thousands of years to make Mars somewhat livable - that way it's okay if we trash the Earth.

Another annoyance; The author claims that the benefits of solving the challenge of putting humans on Mars will provide new products to improve the human condition. No doubt, this is true. But then why does he claim the ISS is just so much orbiting junk? Shouldn't the process of building a space station also provide benefits? He can't have it both ways.

This book is not detailed enough to provide real information about this topic. TED should know better.
Profile Image for Glen.
424 reviews39 followers
December 23, 2016
If you're interested in the title, I think you'll find this tiny book really enjoyable. It reads like non-fiction, but clearly it's only a best-guess at what the future holds. Very discussion-worthy. The National Geographic TV series, "Mars" is only loosely based on this book and consuming one had little effect on my enjoyment of the other.

I gave up on space in about 1999, figuring that without the government it wouldn't happen. But Elon Musk's presentation this summer rekindled the spark of hope. I also enjoyed the book, The Martian and the movie (the book was better, even after the movie, but the visuals in the movie were stunning).

1. Petranek talks about making bricks. Instead of bringing expensive pup-tents and camping out in radiation, storms, severe cold, and risking micro-meteorite damage on the surface, why don't we find a mostly airtight cave, brick up the ends, paint it with sealant, pressurize it, and never leave? That would at least give us lag-free unmanned exploration driven from down there. If we're going to use nuclear energy anyway, I don't see why we'd bother trying to live on the surface.

If we found the right shaped cave, we could feed some dozens of people off of an acre with intensive farming and recycling all bio-waste. I mean, when we've tried to do that on earth, we had all kinds of problems with things like sparrows, cockroaches, and humidity. But if people were stranded there with an air and water supply, I think they could survive even if it's miserable.

2. Even at a low-low $250K a ticket, the most adventurous of us may not want to live out their days on a diet of mealworms, grasshoppers, and multivitamins. I think we could bring bunnies, goats, chickens, or some other meat/milk/egg source if we had something like gravity on the ship. What about keeping them in a small wind tunnel blowing "down" for transport? Even a 10 or 20mph wind might be enough to make all the waste collect "at the bottom" of the compartment. Put the animals up on chicken-wire and let waste fall through. Heck, the people might appreciate the same. Maybe chickens could be shipped part way as eggs?

3. Musk talks about using water to shield us from radiation on the trip. Presumably, that's our supply of drinking water. If it's absorbing the radiation, won't it become heavy water, or won't drinking it make us absorb the radiation later? I don't know enough about this stuff, or if I do, I'm missing something.
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews503 followers
June 17, 2016
Great little book about space travel to Mars in the hopes of making the planet habitable. In this book, which can be read in about an hour, the author briefly examines the following:

What has stood in our way of going to Mars?
Could we have been there already?
What are the implications of key decisions NASA made?
Did we use our budget wisely?
How have politics affected the space budget?
What can we do with such a limited budget?
What explorers have we already sent to the moon, space station, and Mars?
What are our plans to send explorers in the future?
Can we live on Mars?
What are the challenges and what will it take to overcome them?

And of course no book on traveling to Mars would be complete without providing at least some information on Elon Musk and Musk technology. The author provides a very short section on Musk and what his efforts mean for society and the future of space travel.

Profile Image for William.
948 reviews40 followers
July 11, 2016
audio book
Many of the facts and hypothesis are well known and he gathers them into a stable measure. But I do not have faith that he is telling all. When I read or listen to someone who is explaining something to me I have an open-mind; that is until some of their statements or obvious omissions exhibit bias. i.e. when he is explaining culture migration, he talks about Magellan' expedition. He stated that Magellan was killed by "hostile natives". Books that I have read about the event leads me to believe that the natives were considered hostile because resisted the Spanish and their religion. Fact: Magellan died while attacking the inhabitants of Mactan Island, near Cebu, who were led by Datu Lapu-Lapu.
I have an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and was a guest at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Ca. for the week that included the Viking 1 landing in 1976. I am not a space scientist but I sure know how to listen to their conversations.
Profile Image for Karel Baloun.
398 reviews34 followers
July 24, 2017
Concise and hopeful intro to humanity's Mars project. Great for kids -- connects human's primal urge to explore with the science and tools that open our next phase of discovery.

We will be a multi-planet species in 15-30 years.

I agree with other reviewers that this isn't a perfect book -- bold generalizations from selected facts bring this closer to science based sci-fi. Especially on psychology and economics his evidence is way too thin, and his biology/genomics is pure speculation.

(Oxygen consumption calculation on page 46 is wrong, but easy to fix ourselves. Getting every detail right in non fiction is hard.)
Profile Image for Julia Roslyakova.
50 reviews8 followers
February 3, 2016
В значительной части - ода Илону Маску и SpaceX.
В файле на флибусте дофига опечаток.
Profile Image for Lacivard Mammadova.
574 reviews56 followers
October 2, 2017
Adama hansısa kosmik fantastikanın ssenarisi kimi gəlir. Amma anlayırsan ki, bu gələcək elə də uzaqda deyil. Böyük ehtimal uşaqlarımız Marsa da gedəcək, indikilər green card istəyən kimi onlar da red card (mars kart vəya adı nə olacaqsa) istəyərlər. Ən ağır gələn əslində bütün indi edilərin 30-40 il əvvəl də edilə biləcəyi gerçəyidir. Çox planlar insanların hərisliyi, egosuna qurban getdiyini görürsən. Nasa çox yerində tənqid olunub. Daha çox yazmaq olar, ən yaxşısı kitabı oxuyun :)
Profile Image for Nick D.
160 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2020
Very brief intro to the topic of Mars colonization but maybe a good place to start. I'm most interested in the aspects of terraforming and growing plants on Mars. One major obstacle to the that is the high levels of radiation that would be harmful to plants (and all other organisms) without a magnetosphere. Growing would likely have to be underground or at the very least in a shielded building, which may not be enough in the event of a solar flare.
17 reviews
December 16, 2022
How We'll Live on Mars by Stephen L. Petranek was an incredibly interesting book that outlined everything necessary for humanity to create a self-sustaining colony on Mars. It discussed technologies that I didn't know were possible, and presented them in a way that could be easily understood by the average reader. It was a relatively short book, but it never strayed away from the main idea and all of the information was concise and well-written. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and feel that my knowledge on the subject increased drastically; I would recommend it to anyone interested in the idea of living on Mars.
Profile Image for Chad Gagnon.
44 reviews2 followers
March 14, 2020
Essentially was a cliff notes edition of much more thorough pieces of literature. The most captivating aspect of this book was Elon Musk. Given that this book was written just a handful of years ago, it’s astonishing to think of the quantum leaps that Elon and SpaceX have done for space exploration and bringing hypothetical aspects of this book to reality.
Profile Image for Francine Chu.
356 reviews4 followers
April 22, 2017
First thing that comes to mind: impossible! But Petranek not only show how possible it is, he does it so that even a layperson can see it. Really exciting read!
Profile Image for Jasmin Chua.
277 reviews3 followers
May 28, 2018
Impeccably detailed without being overly technical, though the anti-NASA rhetoric could have done with a tad toning down.
Profile Image for Owais Ahmad.
18 reviews15 followers
October 9, 2017
What are the things we need to live on Mars and how we 'll get them, that is what this book is all about. Its a good read, little bit of more details would have made it better.
Profile Image for Wendelle.
1,518 reviews24 followers
February 22, 2021
this short book acclaims private space enterprise aggressively. Dismisses NASA as 'slipping into irrelevance', bogged down by expensive rocketry instead of slimming down costs, derides NASA projects as spacewalking spectacles 'that no one watches', flatters Elon Musk to no end as 'the greatest visionary of our time', 'co-founder of Tesla' (when in fact Elon cannibalized the company by kicking off the original founders). All the visions answering 'how we live on Mars' just transmits Elon's quotes and responses, like some kind of doctrine.. Fails to consider the differences and disadvantages that happen when spacefaring becomes private enterprise instead of a public project in which all citizens have a stake. Especially since Elon has recently revealed in interviews that he's thinking people can come to Mars first, then work the costs of their journey off, which perhaps unintentionally smacks of indentured servitude, I hope we have alternative missions in place...
Profile Image for Bogdan Korytskyi.
124 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2021
Книга після якої згадуєш фразу: "Ми народилися надто пізно, щоб бути відкривачами на Землі і надто рано, щоб бути відкривачами у космосі". Та все ж попри стислість книжка знову змушує мріяти про зірки, а це далеко ненайгірша річ у світі)
Profile Image for Jon Stout.
279 reviews57 followers
November 4, 2016
My grandfather used to say that his life had gone from the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 to the landing of Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969. As a child of the 1950’s, I was acutely aware when the Russians launched the first artificial satellite in 1957, and now, parallel to my grandfather, I expect to see human beings colonizing Mars in the remaining years of my life.

How We’ll Live on Mars, a companion book to a TED Talk, is a great book for an enthusiast like myself. Having nursed my childhood passion by reading non-fiction from Wernher von Braun to Carl Sagan, and by reading fiction from Jules Verne to Kim Stanley Robinson, I’m ready for the real thing. After the relative lull since the Space Shuttles stopped flying, Stephen Petranek fills in the gaps on how the long-delayed next steps to Mars may take place. He puts particular stress on the role of private companies building space rockets, most notably Elon Musk with his SpaceX rockets. He projects that in time it will be possible for tens of thousands of people to migrate to Mars, even assuming a $500,000 cost for an individual to go.

Petranek gives a good discussion of how to utilize water on Mars, and how to generate breathable air. He discusses the possibilities of terraforming, modifying Mars’s ecology so as to produce an environment suitable for plants and animals. The most pressing question that occurred to me is: What will the colonists do, beside achieving conditions to survive? Petranek’s answer is that the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter are tremendously rich in metals that humanity will need in the future, so that we will have our work cut out for us.

Petranek’s book is an entertaining description of what our future of planetary colonization is going to look like. I fully expect to see it in my lifetime.
65 reviews
June 12, 2020
Стоит отметить, что автор восхищён Вернером фон Брауном. Нацистом. Мол, его книга про колонизацию обошла время. Но ведь Америка пригрела у себя на груди нациста. Не отдала его Советскому Союзу для справедливого суда. По сути после этого Стивена Петранека можно назвать человеком, оправдывающим нацизм ради высшего блага.

Нет никакого обозрения Китайской космонавтики, а про Советскую/Российскую написаны одни неудачи. На одной странице.
Никакие технические моменты здесь не описаны. Одни обещания. К примеру, здесь фигурирует проект "Mars One". И где он сейчас? Он обанкротился.
А вокруг всего этого летает Маск. У него и частная кампания, хоть и спонсируемая из федерального бюджета, у него и технологии, хоть и полученные от NASA. И пообещал он много чего: экологически чистые автомобили "Тесла", при производстве которые выделяется больше вредных веществ, чем при всём жизненном цикле обычного бензинового автомобиля; специальный туннель для "Тесла", который так до сих пор и не работает, а его экономическая рентабельность над обычным метро остаётся под вопросом; и на Марс он пообещал полететь;

Какой вообще смысл строить новую цивилизацию на Марсе, когда можно этим заниматься во всём поясе астероидов? Это и перспективнее, и в чём-то проще. А автор не поясняет преимуществ Марса над Поясом. На мой взгляд, куда более жизнеспособна цивилизация, игнорирующая гравитационные колодцы. С Марса вывозить ресурсы дорого. Это будет новая цивилизация на отдельно взятой планете. Торговля между Землёй и Марсом на данный момент не жизнеспособна, а в перспективе она всё равно будет дороже, чем торговля между, допустим, Луной и Церерой.

По итогу это не книга, описывающая, как технически можно создать колонию на Марсе. Это сборник обещаний Илона Маска.
Profile Image for Pietro Giovani.
Author 9 books158 followers
February 3, 2022
Essendomi, in questi ultimi mesi, molto interessato ad argomenti quali la colonizzazione dello spazio, il viaggio per nuovi sistemi e - a grandi linee - i meccanismi conosciuti del cosmo, ho trovato quanto mai appropriato questo libro, quando mi si è parato davanti.

Purtroppo non esiste una versione italiana di How We'll Live on Mars, ma perlomeno posso dire che se il vostro inglese è medio-buono, leggerlo non comporta grande fatica. L'autore, Stephen Petranek, non è uno scrittore, quindi non si dilunga né perde dietro periodi complicati, figure retoriche ed altri abbellimenti tipici di chi la penna la usa per scrivere un romanzo. Nel suo caso, si limita a raccontare alcuni fatti, un po' di storia e a parlare delle difficoltà e delle possibilità, degli ostacoli e dei traguardi che comporterebbe colonizzare il pianeta rosso.
Il libro non è molto voluminoso e, anche in una lingua che non è la mia, l'ho trovato abbastanza scorrevole, complice il fatto che a me interessa quello che sta leggendo, tanto quanto questo discorso valeva per un altro volume disponibile in inglese, che ho recensito precedentemente, ovvero StarTram: The New Race to Space.

Lettura quindi consigliata agli amanti della fantascienza, a coloro cui interessa l'argomento e a chi vuole approfittare di un libro che non sia una sfida eccessiva per allenare la propria reading and comprehension. Qui potete trovare anche il video in cui parlo più diffusamente del saggio.
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