Planning a Mars colony mission

So, you have decided to travel to another world and create a sustainable colony or at least discover if it is possible. It is kind of like moving to some remote location in the middle of the frozen tundra in Siberia. You can’t carry all you might need in one trip so how do you decide what you would need and how many trips it would take. Your plan would also need to include the order of setup. What would be the order of importance for the items? If you were going to spend the night in your new empty house and you could bring one thing what would it be a television or a bed? I would bring the bed and spend a comfortable first night but others may value entertainment over comfort. This is the dilemma facing the planners for the first colony mission to Mars.

 

Let’s take a look at what needs to be accomplished. First you need to get supplies and people to the surface. Can you do that in a single vehicle? Does it make sense to use two vehicles? What about the return trip to Earth or is this, a one way ticket?  Let’s assume for the moment we have a method of getting the Lander to the planet, which we can cover in another paper so what would that first mission be?

 

After landing, you know one of the explorers will have to step outside plant a foot on the surface and utter some historic first words. “This footprint cost 122 billion dollars” or “Can ya hear me now?” Next would be to get the solar array working for power. We may bring a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) for power but the Photo Voltaic cells are a good backup and may even provide a safer power source. Either way I bet there will be PV cells at the first Mars colony.

 

After the power up, computer systems setup, GPS setup and communication setup we want to make sure there is oxygen to breathe. We brought an environmental system that uses frozen oxygen and hydrogen to create energy and water. The oxygen we pull off to breathe will be recycled through CO2 scrubbers. This system will provide what we need to survive for a limited period of time so we had better find water on the planet and soon.

 

We know the water is here below ground and we need to find it before we run out of something to drink and air to breathe. So set up the soil sampler and start the planet search. How would you conduct the search? That would be a matter for the mission commander to decide. Do a radial pattern or do a grid pattern, search near to far, search by elevation or what ever way you think would help you find water the fastest.

 

Ok so you found a source for water, sunk a small well and can pump it out fast enough to supply you with something to drink and something to convert to oxygen, now what? If this is all that we did we have a successful mission. We got here and we found a means to survive here so let’s start gathering information about our new home. We took some samples of soil to find the water and can save that information on a geo map for future missions but we can expand our search some and grid the whole area by taking and testing soil or mineral samples. We might find resources that would be useful or alter future missions.

 

Another major item for the first trip wish list is an enclosed algae system. The system uses carbon dioxide that we breathe out and sunlight to produce a nice green slime that gives off oxygen and can produce food. That technology could provide us with a constant and therefore permanent method to exist on Mars or any other planet that has sun and water.

 

If there is room on this first mission I would choose to take a makeshift greenhouse and some seeds to see if we can grow something on the planet mainly because man can’t live on slime and crackers forever. Finding water was important to our basic survival but did we find a good enough source to irrigate some plants is the next question. Another major part of the mission planning at this point is to decide if we want to put the farm at the water source or bring the water to the farm. I would be nice if the water source was near the landing site but we can’t plan on that being true. We can’t plan on the source of water being on a flat enough landscape for the next Lander to be near by so I think we start now and plan on moving the water to the colony and farm.

 

Now that we have the base camp set up and running our explorers can return home for the ticker tape parade (do they still do that?) and the second crew can drop down with a rover and some construction supplies to start adding to the settlement. Will this second crew be permanent is a good question or should we plan on every two years rotating out the crews with new people? There will be a day when they just stay there because they want to. Personally I don’t see this as a permanent settlement until the first Martian child is born.