Colonizing Mars: A How-To Guide

Establish a settlement on the Red Planet in four not-so-easy steps.

Mars colony

Bryan Versteeg / Mars One

Mars One plans to send four astronauts to Mars by 2025. The company has been notoriously vague on the details of establishing a colony there, though, for good reason: Setting up a base on another world is just plain difficult. Here's how it could work.

Bratislav Milenkovic

Step 1: Launch ComSats

Start by placing a pair of communications satellites, one in a Mars stationary orbit and the other in orbit around the Sun, so that future colonists can stay in touch with Earth throughout the year.

Technical feasibility: High. We know how to build and launch satellites, and we've been communicating with spacecraft near Mars since 1965.

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Bratislav Milenkovic

Step 2: Deliver A Rover

Use an intelligent ground vehicle to scout the best location for long-term settlement–flat terrain, with ample sun and water–and act as a beacon to guide future shipments.

**Technical feasibility: **Moderate. Curiosity advanced our collective ability to land large craft, but rovers are not yet efficient scouts. For instance, in just more than a year, Curiosity has traveled about five miles.

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Bratislav Milenkovic

Step 3: Set Up Habitats

Land a series of cargo missions containing inflatable habitation pods and a second rover. That rover will tow the pods to the settlement location and roll out thin-film solar panels to fuel the production of water and oxygen from Martian soil.

**Technical feasibility: **Low. Landing loads in close proximity is hard. A rover would need enough power to tow cargo, and such a design has not been tested.

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Bratislav Milenkovic

Step 4: Bring The Humans

Send the first crew on the seven-month trip to Mars on a modified Falcon 9 rocket. They will descend to the surface in a lander and subsist on rations until they establish some form of farming.

Technical feasibility: Low. A four-person lander would dwarf the largest craft yet landed on Mars. To get it safely to the surface, engineers would likely require a new approach, not yet tested.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science in the story titled, "Bas Lansdorp Has A Posse."