Imagining a Martian Colony

This week, I’ve been working on a new short story set at a Martian colony. I’ve been fascinated by Mars ever since I saw the first images of the red planet sent back by the Viking lander. Since then, the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers have added to our picture of Mars. What strikes me in all these images is how much Mars looks like the Southern California desert where I grew up. By extension, it’s never been hard for me to imagine someone making a life there. Here we see a Martian landscape from the Curiosity rover.

Mars Landscape

In fact, Mars would be a difficult place to make a life. Not only is it a desert, it has a very thin atmosphere and it’s at the outer edge of our solar system’s habitable zone. The average global temperature is around -60 degrees C. That’s about as cold as it gets on the highest mountain peaks in Antarctica.

Despite the challenges, Mars is an easy planet to explore compared to planets like Venus or Jupiter. It would be great to allow geologists, hydrologists, and chemists a chance to rove the planet and learn what they could. A base would make long term study practical. Of course, if Mars proved to have useful resources that could be inexpensively extracted, a colony might prove inevitable. There are indications that Mars could have deposits of gold, silver, and platinum, all of which have important industrial applications.

In the long run, I believe that humanity’s best bet toward long-term survival is colonizing space. There are several possible approaches including a space station or a lunar base. Inhospitable as Mars is, though, it’s still more hospitable than either Earth orbit or the surface of the Moon. The primary downside is the distance. However, there are inexpensive technologies being developed, such as solar sails, that may make transporting supplies to Mars more practical.

As it turns out, several groups are working toward the goal of manned Mars exploration and even colonization. Most recognize that this is a process that will take many small steps. One team at Arizona State University is raising money to build a construction rover for Mars. I’ve helped to support this project by donating copies of A Kepler’s Dozen and The Solar Sea as giveaways for their Indigogo campaign. They have a lot of other great giveaways as well. If you share the dream of constructing a base on Mars for further exploration, you should visit the website:

As for my short story imagining a Martian Colony, I’ll be sure to pass along news if and when it’s accepted for publication.


12 comments on “Imagining a Martian Colony

  1. I don’t think the Martians will allow large scale colonization. They don’t really like earth people.

  2. wsmarble says:

    The worthiest topic…that we keep forgetting to do something about. More accurately, that we collectively keep procrastinating, now that we actually have the technology.

    And what are the odds that I wrote the word “Viking” ten minutes before reading your post!

    Best of success with your latest book!

    • As a society, we’ve become very fearful of the perception of waste, and people with other, short-term agendas find it very easy to spin space exploration as wasteful. However, if allowed to grow, space exploration could prove one of the greatest boons to job creation ever, not to mention all the technical and medical benefits that would come with it.

      Thanks for the good wishes! This is one of the most full-out “hard” science fiction short stories I’ve written in a while. Hopefully it’ll find a good home,

  3. What, no giant shiny domes? (Actually, I’ve always wondered why people so often imagine domed cities on far-away planets.)

    • I’m not entirely sure where the “domed city” trope came from, though I’d guess an SF writer or artist back in the 50s. Most of the Martian base designs I’ve seen lately look more like a string of trailers — kind of like how Antarctic bases look.

  4. dm yates says:

    What a fun article. The pic looks an awful lot like the southwest desert here in the US.

    • Thanks! I agree, it definitely reminds me of the desert southwest, especially the high desert in California. What I do notice is the complete lack of vegetation – not even a brave clump of grass or a lonely cactus.

  5. nrlymrtl says:

    Once all the scientific exploration is done, I wonder if it will be turned into a penal/mining colony.

    • Mining I could believe. And I could also believe mining happening even before the exploration is done. Penal colony will probably depend on whether people ultimately decide Mars is a place they want to live or not. I’ve always been amazed at the expense we’ll go through as a society to get rid of people we don’t like, so I wouldn’t put it out of the question. If Mars becomes the “posh” neighborhood, I’d bet prisoners will be left behind on Earth. If Mars is the low rent district of the solar system, then we may well ship “undesirables” there.

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