How to start a civilisation (on Mars) – part 2

Let’s go to Mars! We left the last article with the first 24 astronauts having victorious on Mars. If you haven’t read it, just click on this sentence to read it. In the mean time, here’s the first 8 astronauts with their nationalities, genders and specialities. (PU means from Puftnarkel)

  • Antoine Stenet (M, PU, pilot)
  • Slade Van Hout (M, PU, structural engineer)
  • Danita Shaw (F, PU, doctor) Aria Martel (F, PU, EVA (first woman on Mars) )
  • Hal Boon (M, USA, electrical engineer)
  • Tai Wen (M, China, robotic engineer)
  • Zhenya Polzin (F, RU, pilot)
  • Raphael Wechsler (F, DE, technician)

So there they are – the first 8 people to land on the surface of Mars. Four from Puftnarkel, one from the US, one from China, one from Russia and one from Germany (representing ESA). So let’s pick up from the first 24 people to land.

Phase IV – Delta landers ($24 billion)

If you remember, every trip knocks a third of the cost off the mission, and there is an extra lander on the mission. So we have a slightly reduced cost.

Last Phase, the entire crew was hardcore astronauts – engineers, jet pilots, extremely healthy and physically fit. Which is good for an initial phase – we need people who can deal with tough conditions. But for a long-term research station – similar to the one currently established in Antarctica – we need more than that. We need proper scientists. Because of the difference in orbit times, we can only really launch a manned mission every 2-3 years.So the Delta phase would go two years after Gamma, with a few unmanned resupply missions in between.

This mission is mostly scientific. The crew is 36 people on 4 ships, each one highly specialised and carrying equipment, as well as extra components for the base – the four ships would contain 2 extra plantation domes, two science modules plus equipment and eight habitation modules (the ships themselves are used as habitation modules).

At this point I’m going to talk about plants. On Mars, the sunlight is about half as strong as on Earth, so we could expect half the crop yields. But I’ve thought of a solution to this. The obvious answer is solar panels and lights in the domes – this technique is being trialled on Earth for growing crops in inner cities. The problem is, solar panels are only 40% efficient at best, and the best lights we have run at 30%. So if you factor in the lower sunlight levels, we can only run lighting arrays at 6% efficiency. So in other words, you need an area of solar panels almost 20 times the size of the available growing area.

Which will be expensive. Top range solar panels cost about $200 per square metre, and each dome has a growing area of about 30m², each dome needs almost $120,000 of solar panels. Which clearly is not feasible.

So I’ve come up with a cool solution – fibre optics. They can collect light and transfer it at almost 100% efficiency, and they can be spliced together. So if we have only twice the area of the growing bit, we can achieve Earth-level sunlight strength. With four times the area, we can have twice the crop yield. And we can feed the colony.

The other problem is shielding. On Mars, the thin atmosphere and lack of magnetic fields means that the surface has high levels of UV radiation, and a pretty serious risk from solar flares. Luckily, the Mars-One mission has already considered this (given how they plan to actually go to Mars) and plan on using Martian soil as shielding. 

Of course, covering the entire base in 5 metres of earth is impractical – I reckon that a metre of soil plus metallic shielding on the entire complex, plus a few radiation bunkers that are buried under about 10 metres of soil – which would provide twice the shielding of the Earth’s atmosphere; more than sufficient in my opinion. In addition, water makes for surprisingly good shielding – having a water layer circulating between two shells would add a reasonable amount of shielding, and adding algae to that water would have the added benefit of providing extra air filtration.

So the four Delta landers each land over a few weeks, and the base would need to be expanded rapidly to accommodate the influx of new people. You might remember the scientists on the Gamma 2 lander, and may be wondering why we need 32 more people. The answer is fairly simple – the first mission was of astronauts with training as scientists. The second mission is of scientists with astronaut training.

Phase V – Epsilon landers and rovers – $25 billion

This is the final stage of the establishment of the settlement. It is consists of five lander craft and two robotic craft, all of which make the settlement basically self-sufficient. They carry: 8 habitation modules, two growing domes, a lab and a system of getting people off the surface on board the human landers, plus two more habitation modules, some vehicles for proper transport on the Martian surface and a central space for the complex – as well as supplies, materials to build more capsules and a bunch more solar panels. Which I think is enough to have a fairly permanent colony – enough people to deal with whatever problems might arise, a large power supply, a food source and a way to get home. Plus a rendezvous satellite with enough computing power to drive the colony overhead and frequent missions with supplies coming in from Earth. Great!

Now this article has come a bit short. So I’ve been messing around on Google Sketchup and its vast database of models. And I present an initial prototype for the base at the end of Phase Epsilon. None of the components are of my own design, and the final thing would probably end up slightly different. The orange-red octagonal buildings are the landers, the green pods are habitation modules built from Martian resources and the red domes are growing areas. And yes, there are no tunnels. I couldn’t find/make anything that was compatible with all three components. Just imagine tunnels in the obvious places for tunnels to be.


This is what the base will look like from above, with texture on the ground

It's so pretty

This is the base from some height – on an aerial approach or from a neighboring hill.

It looks like a Christmas tree!

This is the aerial view again but with a ground texture that lets you see more detail

No wait it doesn't

This is the same texture but from a different angle

If you want a copy of the file, email . Also do all the usual subscribe-y, like-y and leave-a-comment-y stuff below. Thanks! Apologies for any glaring or subtle errors in this or the last post, I reiterate that I know nothing about this subject – apart from having built some cool rockets in Kerbal Space Program. Blame them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s