- exploring, developing, & settling the red planet -


The first missions to the surface of Mars will be of great historic and practical significance. It would seem best to test the Starship in its cargo capacity first. It seems reasonable that, by even the first cargo flight to Mars, there will have been numerous flights to Earth orbit and back as well as to the surface of the Moon and back. So there should be a fair amount of experience and any of the failure modes will likely have been revealed and fixed. However, there is no substitute for actually landing the Starship on Mars and taking off again to prove that it can be done safely. A single cargo landing prior to sending crew to the surface of Mars seems fairly risky and yet that is the current plan. The Space Development Network believes that multiple cargo missions should be done before sending crew and that a large amount of payload on the surface of Mars would be of great help in establishing an initial permanent base.

The Starship itself could be used for habitation as it would already have the life support equipment and living quarters. However, there is potentially a significant problem with shielding from radiation. Ready-to-go habitats in the form of inflatables that automated robots could cover with Martian dirt would allow the crew to avoid the radiation and hence remain on Mars. The UniHab developed for the Moon could be just as easily implemented on Mars. 3D printing, although so very popular, is a very energy intensive and structurally risky way to go in the early years.

The emphasis of the cargo missions should primarily be sending well-engineered equipment that could take local resources and produce useful material and parts. The mass of the International Space Station compared to the mass of the crew is greater than 1,000:1. A similar situation will occur on Mars. So, the sooner that the bulky mass can be produced locally the sooner that most of the Starships arriving at Mars will carry passengers and not be dedicated cargo flights. Having said that, SpaceX is talking about not returning the Starships to Earth but that the settlers would utilize the material of the Starships. This seems like a good idea which means that cabin material may be made out of some unusual materials that are rare or hard to make on Mars (e.g. copper). An interesting concept would be for just one Starship to be returned to Earth carring all of the flight-proven engines from the whole fleet of Starships.

The initial missions to the surface of Mars should focus on producing materials and equipment from local resources.

Next: Using Local Resources