The expedition of the eight Pioneers of Endeavour and Discovery to Mars was only the beginning of the human exploration and settlement of the planet. The Ares programme continued for a further decade, with first two and then four teams departing on each two-yearly launch window. Each habitat was landed a 1000km rover drive away from a previous landing site. The habitats and methane/oxygen fuel factories formed a network of outposts from which to explore larger areas of the surface. In addition, the crews made use of the nuclear rockets that had formed part of the equipment of the Pioneers, giving them global mobility.
Colonising Mars would be impractical if all the required equipment and materials had to be shipped through the high delta-v from Earth. Demonstrating the feasibility of Mars-based mining and manufacturing thus became the second objective of the Ares project. The first Ares team had fired Martian soil into brick and extracted water from aquifers. The next objective was to establish a chemical industry on Mars, making use of carbon dioxide, water and soil materials to produce oxygen and plastics. By the fourth mission there were small scale geothermal power plants and fuel factories at many important sites, and a pilot iron mining operation had started. The Isidis base camp soon emerged as the most promising of the two sites, and many of the subsequent cargo modules were concentrated around that outpost.
By the early 2040s, the Ares project had fully demonstrated that true colonisation of Mars was not only possible but practical and affordable. In her inaugural speech on 3 May 2042, Federation President Constance Schwinger announced that the EF would establish a permanent colony at the Isidis base camp. ESA immediately began a rigorous colonist selection and training programme. From the thousands of qualified candidates two groups of sixty-four were selected. Each group contained all the specialists needed for living on Mars permanently and performing research there: engineers, farmers, ecologists, chemists, metallurgists, biologists, psychologists, physicists and many others.
Following Senate approval of President Schwinger's Mars Colonisation Initiative, ESA had issued a request for proposals for a second-generation interplanetary spacecraft to carry payloads of 1000 tonnes to Mars. The chosen design, based around a gaseous-core fission drive, was submitted by Exodynamics, one of the foremost European space technology corporations. Construction and Cis-Lunar testing of the prototype vessel, Europa, was completed by the summer of 2044. Shortly thereafter, the first group of sixty-four departed on a one-way voyage to Mars. Alpha Group landed at the Isidis Planitia outpost on 17 September 2045, establishing a settlement soon named Port Robinson.
Anybody who would give up a life of safety on Earth or Luna for the remote, dangerous frontier of Mars would have to be a person of vision. The very first Martians had been idealists of a dozen persuasions, drawn to Mars and changed by it. The world they had come to was an empty stage on which the human drama could begin anew, fresh and vital. It was a world of infinite variety, of startling beauty and myriad possibilities. Mars fever swept the Earth, with people gripped by the dramatic birth of a whole new world being played out on their commlogs and newsheets. Everyone wanted a part of the new frontier, the new hopes, the new dreams.
In the 2040s and 2050s, the long-term thinking of ESA revolved around commercialising transfers of equipment and personnel to Mars and quickly opening the planet to colonisation by non-governmental groups. With a Martian colony established, and no prospect of returning the colonists to Earth, it became a much smaller risk for the megacorporations to invest in interplanetary vehicle design and colonisation equipment. The Schwinger and Maynard administrations actively encouraged this by ceasing conventional funding and instead offering prizes worth billions of marks for the achievement of stated goals within the programme.
The engines of capitalism whirred into operation and then throttled up to overdrive. In 2054, a privately operated interplanetary cycler made its first Martian flyby, delivering equipment for a second township, and earning Soyuz-Mikoyan GŁ40, the first major prize. By the time all the Mars Prizes had been claimed in 2070, the price of passage to the red planet had fallen close to two decade's income for the average Eurasian citizen, Mars was making profitable exports (construction metals to the Cis-Lunar stations; precious metals and fusion fuels to Earth), Martian real estate was being traded at ever higher prices, and the world's population stood at fifty thousand. Martian colonisation, industry and profit had become inextricably bound together.
The early colonies had effectively been governed through the EF Martian Office, but disputes outside EF jurisdiction inevitably occurred as transnationals began to establish their own colonies. To resolve conflicts over the exploitation of global resources, the UN established the Mars Intercorporate Development Commission. As corporate power became dominant on Mars, power inexorably shifted from the bureaucrats of the Mars Office to those of the MIDC.
By the end of the century the Martian population was more than five hundred thousand, most of them employees of Earth's transnational megacorporations. To these later settlers Mars was a resource to be exploited. Certainly, it was big and impressive, breathtaking even, but it was also an escape from overcrowded Earth, and a rich lode of ore to be strip-mined. The aspirations of the first Martians began to disappear under a tsunami of Terran corporate culture. That there would eventually be a confrontation between the two visions of Mars was inevitable.
Mars: 1 2 3 | 4 5 | 6 | Now
The future of Ad Astra