Starting the Settlement of Mars

View from of the main window of the first human habitat on Mars (artist's impression).

Many people are attracted to going to Mars. However, even after decades of effort, none of the most serious plans to go have been implemented. In the 1990s, Carl Sagan pointed out that the cost of going to Mars was then just too big to justify to the US taxpayers given that normal taxpayers could not be expected to value the returns of this exploration so very highly as Sagan did himself.

High costs relative to small perceived returns have continued to hold back plans to go to Mars. Two Planet Steel now has a way to substantially increase actual money returns for settling Mars (more later), but what about progress in reducing the cost of visiting and settling Mars? The focus should be on reducing the cost of transporting humans and their supporting technology, habitat, and life-support systems and other needed equipment and material to the Red Planet. The avenues for doing this are either reduce the cost of transport per unit mass of things transported or reduce the mass of things transported or both.

Achieving substantial reductions in rocket and space-ship payload costs is difficult and there is only one good avenue for doing it: reuse of rockets and rocket parts. Elon Musk's SpaceX's progress with rocket reusability is impressive. However, the up-front costs for starting settlement of Mars will still be enormous if very massive payloads are transported to the Red Planet.

Reducing the mass of things transported to Mars is also possible. This can be done using local Mars resources (particularly the ubiquitous Martian regolith (sand and dust) and its atmosphere), automated equipment and robots. Robert Zubrin and David Baker (1990 and after) were the first to propose a detailed plan for extended stays on Mars that took great advantage of local Mars resources (for fuel-making).

At least one group at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the Regolith, Resources and Robotics (R3) Group, is now working toward cost-lowering with the use of both Mars resources and robots. Two Planet Steel is working along the lines of the R3 Group. In August 2016 Two Planet Steel produced the first detailed plan to start the human settlement Mars based on robot operated mining of Martian regolith, steel production, the fabrication of finished steel-made products (including fabrication of electricity generation equipment), in tandem with oxygen production and water liberation (with possible extensions to production of ground transport vehicles, fuel, ceramics, glass and basalt fiber and on), wherein this can all be carried out on Mars prior to the arrival of the first human on that planet.

If implemented this "steel seeds" plan would reduce, by a factor of more than 10 times, the amount of payload mass that needs to be transported from Earth to Mars for each person in the first human settlement on the Red Planet. This large factor reduction in transported mass also produces a large factor reduction in the cost of starting settlement. It also means that relatively modest-sized rocket systems, as well as very large ones, can be used to start settlement.

After the first starting years, the reduced, per person transported mass factor would steadily increase past 100 times and 1000 times: That is, the Mars settlements will become increasingly self-sufficient and the further expansion of human settlement of Mars would require less and less logistical support from Earth. With this evolving improvement in self-sufficiency on Mars, it makes sense to keep the number of initial human settlers very small and this also turns out to be another powerful way to reduce the overall cost of starting human settlement of Mars.

Martian steel-making not only can reduce the cost to start human settlement of Mars, it can also generate a lot of money on Earth that can be used to help pay the costs of starting settlement of Mars.

It would do this by implementing Martian steel-making right here on Earth and selling this steel here. This manufacture would make clean-steel, that is, with zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This clean-steel will be exciting and profitable to sell both because it will be emblematic of the settlement of Mars, and because this clean-steel will be good for Earth's environment, and because it will become cheaper to produce clean-steel than steel made using blast furnaces.

Here at Two Planet Steel, we think new clean-steel-making on Earth and on Mars will enable the start of a new Two Planet Age. In this Two Planet Age, people will be able to look optimistically at the future and see bold and exciting challenges that go well beyond clean-steel.

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