Phases of Mars colonization....
The exploration phase of Mars colonization has been going on for some time now with the telescopic and robotic surveys that have been and continue to
be made. It will take a quantum leap, however, when actual human expeditions to the planet’s surface begin. As I and others have shown in numerous
papers if the Martian atmosphere is exploited for the purpose of manufacturing rocket fuel and oxygen, the mass, complexity, and overall logistics
requirements of such missions can be reduced to the point where affordable human missions to Mars can be launched with present day technology.
Moreover, by using such “Mars Direct” type approaches, human explorers can be on Mars within 10 years of program initiation, with total expenditure
not more than 20% of NASA’s existing budget.
The purpose of the exploration phase is to resolve the major outstanding scientific questions bearing on the history of Mars as a planet and a
possible home for life in the past, to conduct a preliminary survey of the resources of Mars and determine optimum locations for future human bases
and settlements, and to establish a modus operandi whereby humans can travel to, reside on, and conduct useful operations over substantial regions of
the surface of Mars.
Base Building :
The essence of the base building phase is to conduct agricultural, industrial, chemical, and civil engineering research on Mars as to master an
increasing array of techniques required to turn Martian raw materials into useful resources.
While properly conducted initial exploration missions will make use of the Martian air to provide fuel and oxygen, in the base building phase this
elementary level of local resource utilization will be transcended as the crew of a permanent Mars base learns how to extract native water and grow
crops on Mars, to produce ceramics, glasses, metals, plastics, wires, habitats, inflatable structures, solar panels, and all sorts of other useful
materials, tools, and structures.
While the initial exploration phase can be accomplished with small crews (of about 4 members each) operating out of Spartan base camps spread over
bast areas of the Martian surface, the base building phase will require a division of labor entailing a larger number of people (on the order of 50),
equipped with a wide variety of equipment and substantial sources of power.
In short, the purpose of the base building period is to develop a mastery of those techniques required to produce on Mars the food clothing and
shelter required to support a large population on the Red Planet.
The base building phase could begin in earnest about 10 years after the initial human landing on Mars.
Once the techniques have been mastered that will allow the support of a large population on Mars out of indigenous resources, the settlement of Mars
can begin. The primary purpose of this phase is simply to populate Mars, creating a new branch of human civilization there with exponentially growing
capabilities to transform the Red Planet.
While the Exploration and Base building phases can and probably must be carried out on the basis of outright government funding, during the Settlement
phase economics comes to the fore. That is, while a Mars base of even a few hundred people can potentially be supported out of pocket by governmental
expenditures, a Martian society of hundreds of thousands clearly cannot be.
To be viable, a real Martian civilization must be either completely autarchic (very unlikely until the far future) or be able to produce some kind
of export that allows it to pay for the imports it requires.
If a viable Martian civilization can be established, its population and powers to change its planet will continue to grow.
The advantages accruing to such a society of terraforming Mars into a more human-friendly environment are manifest. Put simply, if enough people
find a way to live and prosper on Mars there is no doubt but that sooner or later they will terraform the planet.
The feasibility or lack thereof of terraforming Mars is thus in a sense a corollary to the economic viability of the Martian colonization effort.