- exploring, developing, & settling the red planet -


Mars is a particularly good location to pursue partial and even complete Earth independence. This means using local resources to produce items needed by a growing base / colony so that they don't have to be shipped from Earth. This can greatly reduce costs since the mass of life support and hardware greatly exceeds the mass of passengers. So, the sooner one starts using local resources the better.

Mars has a definite advantage over the Moon when it comes to local resources. By far, the most convenient thing about Mars is that carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are readily available just by sucking in and concentrating the air and then extracting out those items. Combine that with accessing the water ice that is broadly available and one has the main components of what is needed for organic chemistry. There are also known sources of metals. Finally, Mars has had a much more Earth-like geologic history with erosion, evaporation, and even hot springs. Therefore we would expect there to be very useful ore bodies on Mars. But that would need some telerobotic prospecting. Many of the processes for Earth independence demonstrated on the Moon (e.g. producing sheet metal, etc) could be immediately applied to Mars.

Earth independence is not just a concept but it is something that can be quantified and calculated. Mathematically, Earth independence is the percentage of payload that one does not have to ship from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) compared to the amount of payload that one would have to ship if no ISRU or recycling was done. So, if one reduces the amount of payload needing to depart LEO by 25% then we say that the colony is 25% Earth independence. If everything is produced locally then the colony has become 100% Earth independent.

Although a much greater challenge, achieving full Earth independence is also possible. The key to understanding how this can be done is to choose to analyze the situation from the relevant factors rather than by reasoning by analogy. Many people think that, in order to become fully Earth independent then one has to establish the same type of global economic system that we have on Earth. But the analogy is misleading because, on Earth, we are not making a specific attempt to produce 100% of our needs locally. Rather, we choose to get things cheaper by trading and so become economically independent.

However, a "Survival Colony" is a minimalist colony which none-the-less produces all that it needs because that is its purpose. So, the reasoning is bottom up looking at what the minimum needs are for survival. There is a whole section of this website that gets into the details:

A line can be drawn between those items that it would be more cost-effective to produce locally and those for which it is actually cheaper just to manufacture and ship from Earth. Drinking water and propellant fall into the former and electronics fall into the latter. So, if one is developing a Martian settlement and doesn't care whether the settlement is dependent (and therefore connected) to Earth or not then one would produce below that line and ship above that line.

However, if a goal of the settlement is to serve as an off-Earth back-up for the human species then the goal is to achieve full Earth independence even if it costs more.

The factors needed for complete Earth independence are described in the following video presentation. Some of them such as water extraction are steps which are fairly easy and help achieve a high-level of Earth independence (by mass). Others such as the local production of solar cells are much harder and so will be some of the last steps to be achieved. But, it is the belief of the Space Development Network that the processes of how to achieve the most difficult steps are fairly well understood such that Survival Colonies could be achieved both on the Moon and Mars and within fifteen years or so of the establishment of the first permanent footholds at those locations.

Mars is has readily accessible resources that can be used to achieve material independence from Earth.

Next: New Mars Countries