I will forego the usual discussion of why to do this.   Let’s assume you’ve read everyone’s explanations and motivations.  Whether you agree or not I hope you will agree this is the most logical, only way we can do this.  This next sentence is critically important you understand and agree:

The current NASA program is fatally flawed and should be abandoned as soon as possible.

From the NASA website it is clear they are still focused on short term wins like human transport to Mars.  As a result a lot of the NASA focus is on new very expensive rockets and spacecraft for humans.   Their program is now proposing to build the following components:

asteroid-mission-plymouth-rock-orion-100830-02_400SLSdevelopment rockets

Human transport is extremely expensive.  It is at least 10 and maybe 100 times as expensive as unmanned missions.  This is due to the much large amount of weight that has to be carried to support life.  In addition, the testing and redundancies needed introduce massive costs as well.   The focus on manned missions is WRONG.

The first most important thing to do is to reduce the cost to get a pound of mass into orbit of the earth.   This is by far the single largest cost element of any space project.  We should have attacked this decades ago and represents the short-sighted, wrong-shortsightedness of NASA.   Without reducing the cost to lift weight into orbit the entire cost of the project is multiplied by an order of magnitude.

The NASA lift vehicles like all the sexy vehicles they’ve built in the past ARE NOT REUSABLE.  We must stop them from going down this road.

There is NO reason to rush into this.  Why are we rushing to send humans?  It’s crazy.  STOP.   There is too much to do before we even think of sending humans.   Let’s look at what those things are necessary preconditions to even considering designing a human vehicle to Mars or how we are going to lift it into orbit.

The following steps can be undertaken in parallel.  The list doesn’t imply that they have to be done in a certain order one after another although we should start them in roughly this order in my opinion.


reusable rockets falcon landing

If the Falcon re-usability can be achieved even in part, i.e. some of the rockets can be recovered the cost of going into space will fall dramatically.  We must achieve this first.   Is it any surprise this is where Elon Musk and SpaceX have focused their efforts?


Wikipedia Quote:”Based on these data sources, scientists think that the most abundant chemical elements in the martian crust, besides silicon and oxygen, are iron, magnesium, aluminum, calcium, and potassium. These elements are major components of the minerals comprising igneous rocks.[6] The elementstitanium, chromium, manganese, sulfur, phosphorus, sodium, and chlorine are less abundant[7][8] but are still important components of many accessory minerals[9] in rocks and of secondary minerals (weathering products) in the dust and soils (the regolith). Hydrogen is present as water (H2O) ice and in hydrated minerals. Carbon occurs as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and sometimes as dry ice at the poles. An unknown amount of carbon is also stored in carbonates. Molecularnitrogen (N2) makes up 2.7 percent of the atmosphere. As far as we know, organic compounds are absent[10] except for a trace of methane detected in the atmosphere.[11][12]

We know that Mars has lots of materials we need.  It was confirmed today that Mars contains water on the surface and just below but there is also a wide variety of standard building blocks for our machines and for life.  We may find everything we need there.  We likely will because almost everything we find on earth is probabilistic-ally available on mars that isn’t of organic origin.  The organic compounds can typically be manufactured in processes we can do ourselves so the possibility to get everything we need is large.

However, like on the Earth knowing that Mars probably has stuff doesn’t mean we know where it is or how to get it and how to use it.   Without this information we must bring everything ourselves and continue to bring everything ourselves for a long time.  This represents massive additional costs and limits the size of the expedition dramatically.   Such a plan of going there before we know all this assumes NO long term plan.   It is short sighted and stupid.

diggin machine

We must send robotic ships which can dig into Mars, analyze Mars soil in numerous places around the planet.  We must have a detailed understanding of where water, CO2, key minerals and materials are.   We need at least 10 industrial type robots scouring Mars examining the planet in detail to depths of hundreds of meters in many locations.   This is 100 times more than the current mars explorer.

Curiosity can dig only a couple inches into soil, it moves at a snails pace of 3mph and has very limited energy capacity.   It is designed to run for months although it will probably be in operation for 30 years the pace of operation and learning from it is vastly too slow.   We need to step up to much larger robotic and more powerful, i.e. bigger energy sources.   This will be critical for any human exploration and use of Mars anyway so it is critical we do this.   We also need them to be autonomous largely.  How convenient we are building autonomous cars now.   That technology is critically needed for these machines.

This is such a huge endeavor we cannot even think of manned missions at this time.  It’s crazy.  We need serious exploration if we are going to go there and spend many billions to do so and not waste that money completely.



There are lots of useful materials for plants to live on mars.  Of course plants need CO2 as well as minerals in the soil.  They cannot be exposed to the limited atmosphere of mars any more than humans.  After we figure out what is on Mars we can figure what we need to bring with us or have resupplied.   We need to figure out how to protect plants and potentially animals from radiation and the limited atmosphere.  We need to come up with biospheres to support and automate most of the growing process and farming and to protect plants, animals and humans.    We already do a lot of that on Earth with farming machines.   We need to adapt machines and technologies.  It’s not science fiction.  This is almost certainly doable but if it isn’t then there isn’t much point to making a tourist stop on Mars just for the heck of it.  If it’s not viable it isn’t viable and not having the ability to live off Mars for food and basics is critical.  We need to figure out how to do this BEFORE WE SEND HUMANS.

When I say figure this out I mean we must actually try most of these things to get proficient and to learn the problems that will inevitably crop up.  This is non-trivial but far from impossible.  We are simply talking about industrial engineering but done at far distance it will be time consuming and expensive so we can’t involve humans until we get to the point we are sure and understand it and have deployed a significant amount of equipment to create sustainability.



This step involves protecting humans from radiation, understanding gravity impacts on humans or animals or plants, understanding long term needs that we may not understand due to our continuous presence in a resource rich world that is designed and evolved around us.   We don’t know what things we may need so we need to study how to potentially live a long time in this difficult environment.

Underground may be the most viable possibility.    If so, we are going to need digging machines to excavate large caverns and then coat the surface with materials to prevent air escape.   The soil would protect humans during most of the time from the radiation until we devise other means.


I am not saying we need to do each of these 4 things above perfectly.  We have to be able to guarantee that no matter what: any expedition to Mars will have the resources and ability to last 20 years and support 20-100 people.   This means that we need to do a lot more work on the basics of space exploration and robotics, automation and remote manufacturing.  We need to study life in these environments.   This will take time and many more missions.   Probably 100 missions to space and many to Mars.  Many will have to occur simultaneously.

With current costs/mission, the lack of re-usability these 100 missions would be incredibly expensive.   This is why STEP ONE is SO important.

I am guessing we need 100 missions to study deploy technology discover and these missions spread over 10 – 20 years.   Sometime in this period we will decide where the first colony should be.

Another critical point.   We have to be willing to “upset” Mars.  To dig into the soil substantially, to excavate, to possibly introduce foreign life.   The current mechanisms we have of 100% pure sterilization is not practical and is contrary to the point of colonizing Mars.   We need to confront or examine the moral and other issues and see if we are politically willing to essentially “take over” Mars.   This could be controversial.

There may be single cellular life on Mars.   By going there we may either kill or alter this life if it exists.  We have to be willing to do this.   The universe is for all we know devoid of all life except this one planet we are on.  Virtually the entire universe appears to be nothing but dead rock.  Without humanity and the life on this planet when we die the universe will possibly be entirely devoid of all life and its point for existence would be a question.   I believe this is what gives us the moral imperitive to conquer Mars and take it for our purposes.

An 11th point I don’t put in this plan which should be added probably is that we find the life that is on Mars if it exists and we find a way to preserve it so that nothing we do jeopardizes it’s existence.   However, if in the end that life will suffer we need to choose to do this and accept the consequences or not.  Since this debate may put in doubt the viability of our plan to Mars discovering life should be a priority of early missions and we need to be able to understand this life and its origin and how it survives, what it needs to survive and make that consistent with our plans.

Let’s continue the list.



This is nontrivial.  Unlike Curiosity where we did some research to make a choice where to land we need to understand what is going to be existent where we land, what is going to be close, what is farther away and have figured out how we are going to live in that specific place.   In order to do that we need a lot more information on Mars, hence the missions before to figure out where everything is and how to use that stuff.   We will likely decide on a place and after studying it and exploring decide on a different place.

STEP 6 – PRE-PLACE enough material for multiple redundancy and extended stay

missions to mars

The human race has sent 35 missions to Mars.   We may need to send 200 UNMANNED missions to mars before we send a manned mission.   Each of these will be FAR LARGER than the missions we did before. These 200 missions to Mars may be accompanies by 1000 launches from earth.   These missions would serve many purposes outlined in this 10-step program.

We should launch possibly as many as 100 missions whose sole purpose will be to put materials in place at designated locations we need materials.   We need robots, supplies, manufacturing and processing, energy capture and generation and storage devices.  A network for power, communications and materials. Everything must be replicated at least 5 times what is needed for 10 years stay in my opinion.

NASA has traditionally done manned systems with 5 times replication.   The idea is that you need a backup, but you also need a backup of the backup and the problem is that the complexity of providing backup, the problems that sometimes crops up means you need essentially voting and the ability if the voting is a problem to use a completely separately designed and operating system.   In a similar way, all resources must have a source, a backup source, a backup to the backup and if that fails a completely different resource that can do the same thing done by a completely different team.  So, we need many different kinds of devices, multiples of those devices for backup.   We need a lot of missions to make this all happen and studying to figure out what to send.

We won’t have time to send something up in an emergency.  Transit time to Mars is 9 months ideally but that assumes certain windows when Mars and Earth are lined up.  In general it could take years from a random point in time to get to Mars.    So, the colony must have a massive backup capacity.

This means the cost will be huge unless we do STEP ONE.  Remember we must stop NASA from building non-reusable rockets or doing anything with manned vehicles anytime soon!


This is NOT it:


This is more like it:

space station

Before we go to Mars it is extremely likely it makes sense to have a space platform of some sort.  We would want this to stage missions, build larger craft or to test some of our Mars assumptions and equipment.   It would be best to build such a space station at a Lagrangian point.   This is a place where the gravity of the earth and moon balance so that a body located there will be balanced and not need additional thrust to maintain its position.  This allows much longer term missions which we have to assume with this whole effort.  For many reasons a space station makes sense.   This space station should spin to give at least roughly Mars gravity.  This would validate that Mars gravity is fine for living as well.


Whether or not we permanently stay on Mars we should not go if we aren’t going for an extended period. There is a lot to study and do.  Mars is the closest thing we will ever have to a viable second home for humans.  There is hardly any planet within light years of Earth that is more hospitable.  This is it.  There are no real alternatives so Mars is a major commitment and responsibility.    We shouldn’t go in my opinion until we are ready to make a commitment of this magnitude.   It’s a complete waste of money and time to simply go there and back in a year or two and declare success like we did for the moon.  Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.


  1. Atmospheric Engineers
  2. Materials Engineers
  3. Physicists
  4. Pilots
  5. Programmers
  6. Mechanical Engineers
  7. Doctors, Nurses
  8. Psychologist
  9. Biologists

Studying Mars will take scientists of many types as well as practical people who can engineer and fix things, keep things working.   We need enough people so there is variety and people won’t go crazy.   If we need space for so many people we need larger habitats, possibly multiple delivery missions for the people.    We need entertainment, activities for people to live and play.   We need to assume normal relationships will develop and fights or problems between people will develop.


The efforts goal should be to determine the way to attain long term viability.   If we don’t plan to occupy the planet for the long haul I don’t see why we would go.   Therefore, we must plan that the goal of the team is to constantly work towards long term viability.  They must work to find ways to use the resources of the planet more and more and to use less and less of Earths resources.   Part of the rationale for long term habitation is as a “backup” for the human race.   While that seems ridiculous now the hope is that in 100 or 200 or more years we will be in a position to make Mars more livable.  This may involve terraforming or larger scale permanent settlements.


When you think of man’s greatest achievement in my mind it is simply obvious.  We have bootmarks on the surface of the moon.   I know I have derided our moon landings but that is because we have retreated.  We can only say that man at one time had the capacity to transport himself to another planet and step on it.   It is the culmination and proof that we are advanced able to leverage our technology for more than our daily support.   We are able to imagine a future where humans occupy more than one ball, where humans have gone to the next level.

Maybe we can’t achieve this goal.  If we don’t commit to it, then I think we shouldn’t attempt it.  Such things are giant wastes of money.   The approach I have outlined is a step by step approach and we are not committed to manned occupation until some time down the road.   We keep the costs low by developing the cheapest way to get mass in to space and then we focus on the machines and research to understand how to do it for real.

I don’t want a play effort.  I don’t want us to go there and realize we never planned on staying and wonder why we went there like with the moon missions.

Other Articles you may find interesting:

Why space travel? Why go to mars? What is US Goal for Space Exploration?

Continuing Predictions and thoughts of the future Part V Space Travel

Here’s how we could build a colony on an alien world