- exploring, developing, & settling the red planet -

The Space Development Network anticipates that it is more likely than not that SpaceX's Starship (and later variants) will become the main vehicle used in the initial development of Mars. Until the Starship demonstrates its superiority (price & capability) over the SLS, we anticipate that the decision-makers will continue to pursue their current path. But given the probability of Starship, a "tipping point criteria" should be established where support should transition from SLS to Starship.

There has been much discussion and debate between the Moon first" versus "Mars first" advocates. It is not a simple question. The Starship would be able to make about 70 rountrips to the Moon for every roundtrip to Mars. The Moon is also within telerobotic reach of the Earth and so could develop more quickly. It also allows grandparents to remain in interactive contact with their grandkids and lunar gravity allows for more amazing activity than on Mars. The Moon has all of the resources necessary for large-scale settlement. Yet Mars definitely has more easily accessed resources than the Moon. Overall, the Moon will likely be developed just a bit earlier and a fair amount faster than Mars.

For reasons of safety, the initial Mars missions should be heavy on cargo and light on crew. Automated systems would take local resources and produce useful products so as to transition from shipping cargo to shipping passengers as soon as possible. The goal would be to have resource production and base growth remain ahead of population growth. Initial crewed missions to the surface of Mars would be prominent in the history of Mars. The makeup and actions of the Initial Crew would be part of the founding history of Mars. Using a well thought out plan, the Initial Crew could lay a solid foundation for all of those coming later.

An initial base should be located as close to the equator as possible and where water ice is confirmed to exist. Water would provide an important source of hydrogen for propellant in addition to being used for drinking, sanitation, and irrigating plants. Electrolysis would provide oxygen for breathing. Using the water and atmospheric CO2, a chemical process could produce methane to refuel the Starships. These processes make up the majority of the mass that would otherwise have to be shipped from Earth. Metals from surface meteorites and from the Martian dirt could be used to produce many useful parts. Plastics could be fairly easily made from local resources and could be used for any number of structures and parts. With extensive ISRU, a mostly self-reliant base could be achieved within the first few years of crew landing.

Just like on the Moon, it is anticipated that there will be a large International Mars Exploration Phase in which the nations pay on a per-seat basis to send their national astronauts to explore Mars on behalf of their people and in their language. This phase will provide important income and base development which will set the stage for private settlement.

Similar to lunar development, private settlers will come in two varieties (early and later). The early settlers will live a somewhat more deprived life but will have an historic opportunity to build up the settlement in order to open up Mars to humanity. The later settlers will have many conveniences expected by retirees on Earth. All settlers will not be able to go to Mars unless they are able to pay for not only their transport but housing, life support, and upkeep for the rest of their lives.

Achieving partial or even complete self-reliance would be much easier on Mars than on the Moon. Achieving even 85% Earth independence (by mass) should be achievable within the first few years. Early Survival Colonies on Mars would be an important objective prior to when large, self-sufficient cities are established.

Similar to lunar settlement, people on Mars will likely wish to congregate according to their language, culture, religion, and political preference. This is normal and inevitable. These groups will eventually wish to establish their own colonies separate from the initial international base with trade between them. With more population growth these colonies would eventually become politically independent (sovereign) countries. Pre-drawn borders could prevent conflict between these countries.

Many space advocates envision the atmosphere of Mars being terraformed over a very long period of time thereby transforming the planet into a more Earth-like environment where people could walk outside. The Space Development Network emphasizes that large-scale paraterraforming (large greenhouses) can be achieved adjacent to settlements and provide a much more rapid yet still large-scale alternative to traditional terraforming.

Join the Space
Development Network
Next Section