The space race is on, and it’s only a matter of time before humans land on Mars. With several different groups aiming for the red planet, there’s likely to be not one outpost among the stars, but many.
National space agencies and private transport companies are all competing to reach Mars and establish their own base of operations, and they all have very different motivations and ideas on how to govern their colonies once they get there.
If Elon Musk gets his way and manages to lower the cost of a trip to Mars, the floodgates will open and settlers will stream towards the red planet in mass numbers. The resulting chaos is likely to produce several different Martian metropolises with their own character, laws, and forms of government much like the city-states of ancient Greece.
Here’s what we know now.
President Obama has set a national goal for a manned Mars mission sometime in the 2030s, and NASA plans to get us there with a multistep approach beginning with the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule.
Elon Musk, however, insists SpaceX will land on the red planet first, with its Interplanetary Transport System capable of hauling hundreds of brave settlers across the vastness of space, according to National Geographic.
“Either we’re going to become a multiplanet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event.”
America’s space travel companies are the most vocal advocates for a human colony on the red planet, but they’re not the only ones taking aim at Mars.
America’s biggest rival in space sent a series of probes to Mars back in the 1960s and 70s, but they all crashed or failed shortly after landing. In 2011, the Roscosmos space agency launched a probe to explore the Martian moon Phobos, but it never made it out of orbit and eventually fell back to Earth.
Now, the agency is conducting a joint mission with the European Space Agency to land a rover on the surface of Mars, with the touchdown on the red planet expected to happen next week.
Roscosmos is also training four rhesus monkeys to operate a spacecraft and do math for a mission to Mars in 2017, trainer Inessa Kozlovskaya told the Daily Mail.
“What we are trying to do is to make them as intelligent as possible so we can use them to explore space beyond our orbit.”
Monkeys certainly won’t be colonizing Mars, but the mission shows Russia’s commitment to reaching the red planet.
China made a huge leap and became a major player in the space race with its second space station, the world’s largest single-dish radio antenna, and plans for the first mission to the moon’s dark side.
The government-backed space agency is only 19-years-old, but it is already busy constructing a Mars rover of its own that China hopes to land on the red planet in 2020. The country could easily wind up being the black horse in the space race and wind up beating the U.S. to Mars.
The ESA is no stranger to space, and an orbiting observatory has even managed to produce a groundbreaking three-dimensional map of the Milky Way galaxy as part of its mission to pinpoint a billion stars.
Along with the ExoMars rover partnership with Roscosmos, the space agency also has a Mars orbiter circling the red planet, but there are currently no plans to send humans there.
A Dutch non-profit called Mars One plans to start launching unmanned missions to the red planet in 2020 in preparation for a series of four-person crews who will be assigned to build a permanent settlement.
The company plans to keep sending people on one-way trips to Mars until a self-sustaining colony is eventually established, although there is some doubt about the realistic scientific ability of the company to complete its mission.
The effort is expected to cost billions, and the company plans to raise the money by staging a global media event advertising the entire project.
While not planning to go to Mars, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wants to eventually get millions of people living and working in space, and the United Launch Alliance is working to develop a cislunar economy in low Earth orbit.
What form of government do you think a future Mars colony will take?