The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has announced their plans for colonizing Mars, of which includes plans for permanent ‘Earth Independent’ settlements that would be capable of operating for extended missions with little or no material support needed from Earth.
Their report, entitled ‘Journey to Mars’, outlines NASA’s 3-stage plan for developing the path for the long-term colonization of Mars, with the goal of landing a human presence there sometime in the 2030s.
NASA’s first ‘Earth Reliant’ stage is to make use of near-Earth orbit facilities and technologies, such as the International Space Station, to hone short-term space habitation techniques, for periods lasting up to one year. Stage two, the ‘Proving Ground’ stage, also has mission durations of up to one year. It involves mission environments in higher orbits, such as in cislunar space. This would place a long-term colony in a strategic spot in the moon’s orbit, using information and techniques gained from International Space Station experience.
The stage three ‘Earth Independent’ phase will involve human-occupied missions to Mars that could see durations of up to three years. They would be preceded by unmanned supply missions, orbital satellites, and surface rovers, to be used as material assistance by the newly-arrived human explorers. NASA plans to utilize Solar-Electric Propulsion (SEP) methods, which are expected to reduce fuel requirements for the spacecraft dramatically, to transit the future colonists there.
The eventual goal is to learn to use Mars’s available resources for sustaining colonies that are established there, with minimal material support from Earth, much in the way Matt Damon’s character in ‘The Martian’ does to survive. This independence will be an essential aspect of any mission to Mars, whether it’s for a long-term return mission or a permanent colony: since travel times between Earth and Mars are on the order of months, it would become impossible for even comparatively long-term emergencies to be addressed by experts on Earth.
“Like the Apollo program, we embark on this journey for all humanity. Unlike Apollo, we will be going to stay."