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Red Mars
Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Credit: Bantam Spectra
On Independence Day, 1997, my life changed. All around me, in magazines, on TV, and on the radio, I had heard of NASA and its landing on Mars. It was the first time NASA had landed a probe on the surface since the seventies, and there was quite a bustle about it. I donít remember too many details of that day, except that my father patted me on the back and said we were heading off to the Peters Township Public Library.

You see, my dad explained, there is this thing called the Internet. It allows people to connect to each other on their computers and communicate information. NASA has a website on the Internet where people can see pictures of the surface of Mars.

I was intrigued, but a little confused. Our home computer didnít have the Internet, and I couldnít quite understand it. But I had to see these pictures from another planet that everyone was talking about. I learned afterward that for the next four years it was the most visited website in history.

The pictures amazed meÖ a rocky landscape spread out before me on the screen, rusty and barren, while NASAís alien lander sat in the foreground.

My dad checked out a book called, Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson. On the ride home, I snatched the book and read the first few pages. People living on Mars! The prospect stunned me, and within a week I had read the entire thing.

Four years would pass before Red Colony.com. In that time, I developed interests in Mars, NASA, astronomy, computers, and the Internet. My thirst for answers about the planets and solar systems beyond our own only made me ask more and more questions.

In 1997, my family began to receive the Internet. I was told, above all, never to register on any website-creation sites since they were all fraudulent services out to make a buck. The first chance I got, I registered on Angelfire.com, one of the premiere webhosts for free personal pages and operated by CMU. I read over a few online HTML guides and began to design my own website. My topic was the latest craze, Pokťmon. The site did well for its size and limited content, but I wasnít satisfied. I began a website called Jedi Tale in response to Star Wars: Episode I in theaters. It was rated #1 personal Star Wars website by a popular search engine. I still was not content.

It was 2000, and my uncle was interested in the Internet. He had seen how thousands of Americans had made millions off the Internet, and he wanted to join in. Calling upon my web-design knowledge, he asked if I could create a website that would bring him money one day. I would get to choose the topic. Armed with a pocketbook, I agreed happily. He funded my first domain name, www.redcolony.com. There were two things wrong with our plan, however: The topic had not its public appeal as it did four years prior, and I knew absolutely nothing about e-commerce. When the website failed to bring in money, he gave me ownership and the site exploded with popularity.

On July 4th, 2000 I began Red Colony.com. At the time, I was in summer band before my freshmen year. The site began with simple ideas that I had put into crude ďarticles.Ē The first articles represented my limited knowledge on terraforming and colonization, but my passion for answers.

I remember spending close to three hours a day just writing code. I wanted the site to be compatible in all browsers and in all resolutions. My method was simple: to do all my coding in Windows Notepad. To this day I have never used a webpage editor, only because I started out with the basics.

So much maintenance work meant that I had little time to develop actual articles. That summer, while the site was still getting off its feet, I recruited Brian Rudo to help with some writing. He brought a level of expertise to Red Colony.com, converting the site from a personal webpage to a professional website. Jim Keener, another friend, also showed interest. He joined the team later that year.

The site had now achieved more than I could have dreamed. I had thousands of hits per day, the highest search-engine placement, and reviews from seemingly everyone in NASA but Neil Armstrong. But I wasnít satisfied.

I wrote an email to Steve Squyres, chairman of NASA's Space Science Advisory Committee and personal friend of the late Carl Sagan. He promptly replied with answers to my questions, and I immediately posted the interview. There were quite a few people interested in what he had to say about upcoming missions to Mars, and Red Colony.com offered them an exclusive interview!

I have received literally thousands of emails over the years from people looking for answers. From elementary school students to college professors, I answered the emails as best I could. One particularly interesting email that comes to mind is a letter by a man named, Robert Weide. He was a screenplay writer from Hollywood, developing a script for a movie. The movie was based on the famous Kurt Vonnegut novel "The Sirens of Titan.Ē He mentioned that he spent several months making calls to his friends and Vonnegut himself, searching for answers to some of the paradoxes in his book dealing with terraforming. Finally, he tried the Internet and found Red Colony.com. Although I donít know how the project is going now, I can say that I contributed to a movie script.

The volume of emails I received made me realize the potential for an online community. There were obviously people interested in terraforming Mars, but they had no way to communicate with each other. I built a message board and chat room, each now with 125 members. There are constant debates, at all hours of the day. The forum has now become the second most visited page on the website, second only to the front page.

There are also a large number of people who just want to express their own ideas for others to see. Thus was born my next idea. The site now offers the opportunity for user-submitted articles. The number of novels even outnumbers the short stories, a testimony to the eagerness of my visitors to get things done.

I have made a few friends in high places. Don Dixon, a famous science fiction painter, sent me a picture that is now on Red Colony. I later discovered that he painted the cover for Red Mars. Matthew Holmes sent the yin yang picture that is now the site's logo. A man who did animation work on the movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, also sent me some art. I met, in person, two NASA scientists who were enthusiastic to learn about my website. We discussed the future of the space agency and the future of Mars, and one of the men even submitted his feelings in an article. I have received many positive reviews from people all over the world, including National Geographic senior editor, John G. Mitchell, and president of the AAAA, John Wagoner.

Another fun part about working on a popular website is that anyone whoís ever done a project on Mars colonization has heard about you. Iíve been cited so many times for school reports and newspaper blips that I canít keep track anymore. I mentioned that I had a website to a friend of mine at Peterís Township. When he asked the name of it and I told him, his mouth dropped. He had just used it for his science report.

Red Colony.com will keep me busy for many years to come, I am sure. As governments of the world begin to send their landers and orbiters to Mars, more and more people will visit my website. It already holds the title of largest and most visited Mars colonization website in the world. Once public awareness increases and governments and corporations begin to toy with landing a man on Mars, my visitor hits will skyrocket.

But I think the most rewarding part of this hobby of mine is the thought that somewhere in the world, a young person is interested in Mars now because of my work. And maybe one day, that person will be responsible for helping to colonize another planet.