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Mars Base Design Proposal

Camryn Burley

Scope Summary

Need: With the aid of a human crew on site, understand the past and present of life on Mars, while creating an Earth-like environment to examine the potential of life on Mars in the future.

Goal: Find evidence of life on Mars in the past and/or present and terraform the planet to better sustain life in the future.

Objective: Dig deep into the crust of Mars to search for living organisms and fossilized remains while simultaneously shaping the planet to support life.

Mission: Use the data collected from a robotic mission, including two rovers of specific purposes, to search for life on Mars and support human colonization of the planet.


The potential for life on Mars has intrigued and perplexed scientists and the general public for centuries. Humans possess a natural curiosity and desire to know if they are the only intelligent beings in the universe and whether or not their home is the only planet that can support life in any form. Building on a robotic mission that will act as a predecessor to this one, a human crew will delve deep into the past of Mars, as well as far under its surface, to determine if life ever existed on Mars. They will also look for signs of life in the present and act as the beginning of research into the future of life on Mars, by setting up a colony that will be supported by environmentally shaping the planet, through terraforming, to become a suitable habitat for humans and other life forms. This mission seeks to answer the most pressing questions about life on Mars by looking at Mars’ history, its current state of being, and the possibilities to come.

Mission Name

The name of this mission is SHORES, which stands for Sustentation of Habitation of Organic Residents through Environmental Shaping. Sustentation means to sustain life through vital processes, and terraforming can be considered a vital process, as it will give new life to Mars and new possibilities to living things. To “shore up” is to support, which is exactly what the SHORES mission will do by supporting further research and the ability of humans to live and work on the planet. Science is at the shore of an ocean of knowledge; all of humanity is on the brink of discovery. The potential exists to learn more about Mars, organic life forms, the processes that have shaped Earth, and the infinite capabilities of human ingenuity through the SHORES project.

Primary Goals

Several goals drive the SHORES mission. SHORES seeks to build a colony on Mars out of the materials unearthed by one of the rovers of the robotic mission, terraform the planet to allow colonists to inhabit it and move about with only the help of an oxygen mask, and continue the search for life on Mars with the aid of in-situ researchers.

The robotic mission, a precursor to the SHORES mission, examined the past, present, and future of life on Mars. In order to satisfy the past element, the rover dug deep beneath the surface of Mars and attempted to find fossils, with the aid of images sent to researchers on Earth. The crew of the SHORES mission will analyze these samples from the rovers themselves, without the need for pictures sent to Earth, saving time and resources. While digging to find fossils, the rover will have unearthed an abundance of material, which will be used to build the Martian base for the crew, another goal of the mission. Continuing to build upon the data collected by the robotic mission, SHORES will make use of the results of the search for current life on Mars conducted by the rover. If there should be life on Mars, safety precautions can be taken to ensure the safety of the crew when introduced to the same environment as those living things. The crew can also carry on the search for life in today’s time. The robotic mission also attempted to correlate a Martian site to an Earth-based location to analyze the potential for life to survive on Mars. The future element of the robotic mission will be carried out by SHORES in that Mars will be terraformed to better sustain life. This gives the best chance for humans to safely and more easily investigate the planet, as well as giving great insight into the processes which shaped Earth to be so habitable. The future of life on Mars will be explored through a colony on a newly terraformed planet.

These goals are also relevant to NASA’S Mars Exploration Program (MEP) goals. Building a colony out of materials unearthed by one of the rovers from the robotic mission and terraforming the planet satisfy the MEP goal of preparing for human exploration (NASA, 2015b). Those goals will allow the crew to have a place to live and work, as well as a habitable environment that not only better sustains them but also gives insight on how the Earth was shaped billions of years ago. Continuing the search for life on Mars as started by the robotic mission satisfies the MEP goal to determine whether life ever arose on Mars (NASA, 2015b). This goal will be aided with the help of human researchers who can think for themselves and act on their discoveries in the same location as the breakthrough is made.

Through using the previous robotic mission, SHORES has defined goals that will probe the question of whether life exists on Mars and seek to sustain a colony of human researchers that will explore the planet like no technology can.
Mission Duration and Timeline

The following table shows the proposed timeline for the SHORES mission. Included are important dates for the robotic mission that SHORES builds upon, as well as milestones in the mission itself.



May 2018

  • Launch of the robotic mission

November 2018- January 2019

  • Arrival of the robotic mission to Mars within this range of time

By the end of March 2019

  • Beginning of data collection for the robotic mission

End of March 2020

  • Expiration of rovers’ warranty, anticipated end of data collection for the robotic mission

  • Launch of 3D printer, which will construct the factories for terraforming and the crew’s habitat

April 2020

  • Beginning of analysis of data from robotic mission

September- November 2020

April 2021

  • 25 factories have been completed, terraforming process begins

  • Continue construction of factories until 50 have been completed

December 2021

  • Approximate end of data analysis and synthesis from the robotic mission

January 2022

  • SHORES mission planning in full force

April 2022

  • End of factory construction, all 50 factories contributing to the terraforming process

June 2039

  • Beginning of construction of SHORES base on Mars

August 2039

  • End of construction of base

December 2039

  • Launch of SHORES crew to Mars

June- August 2040

  • Arrival of SHORES crew to Mars

Crew arrival- end of March 2045

  • Duration of manned mission, crew fulfills responsibilities to meet SHORES goals

April 2045

  • Launch of SHORES crew from Mars to Earth

October-December 2045

  • Arrival of SHORES crew back on Earth

The SHORES mission must encompass this duration, as the terraforming process needs a significant amount of time in order to be at a stage ready, based on the mission goals, to send the crew. The SHORES mission goes into effect just after the anticipated end of the robotic mission, which means it wastes no time to set up the factories necessary to terraform the planet. The crew will also need five years to set up a successful base, perform many experiments to find out the condition of life on Mars and to monitor the terraforming process.


The robotic mission featured two rovers that landed in two different sites. One rover landed in Gusev Crater in order to search for fossils and life in the present-day by digging below the surface. Gusev Crater will also be the site of the SHORES base. This location has been chosen, as the rover will have unearthed an abundance of material which is to be used to facilitate construction of the base; the location has qualities which make it an ideal landing site for the crew’s vehicle and for the base, including low elevation, an equatorial position that allows for ample sunlight, an amount of dust that is acceptable, and more-than-adequate imaging of the site (Viotti, 2015); and the area is relevant to scientific research in that it was once a lakebed, giving it more potential to have signs of life in the past or present. Also, the Spirit rover did not get to explore the entirety of the area, so there is investigation left to be completed (Mars Spaceflight Facility, Arizona State University 2014). Gusev Crater is pictured at the right (United States Geological Survey (USGS), 2015), and is bounded by the coordinates 173.5-178.5o E, 10-18o S (Van Kan Parker et al., 2010).

Mission Elements

The mission elements include the technology and machinery necessary to carry out the mission. The mission elements for the robotic mission acting as a precursor to the SHORES mission included two rovers, an orbiter, which acted as transportation for the rovers and a communications systems for them later, a multi-stage rocket, and the payload of the rovers.

The SHORES mission requires more mission elements than the robotic mission, as it includes a human crew. The human factor adds extra requirements, such as life support systems. The mission elements for SHORES include factories for terraforming the Martian environment, machinery to create the buildings and factories, the buildings themselves, the multi-stage rocket to launch the crew arrival vehicle to Mars and the vehicle itself, life support systems both in the vehicle and on the Martian surface, and communications systems.

The lofty goal of terraforming Mars will start with raising the temperature and surface pressure to better accommodate the manned mission and to start the process of examining the future of life on Mars. This much simpler objective could be accomplished within a couple of decades (Traicoff, 2011). The crew’s launch time reflects the time needed to shape the environment; the interval between the beginning of the terraforming process and the crew’s launch is nearly 20 years. In order to increase the temperature and surface pressure, solar-powered factories (Bonsor, 2000), located in the regions of Mars that get the most sunlight, so as to supply them with the most energy possible, will be constructed to release greenhouse gases into the Martian atmosphere (Traicoff, 2011). The greenhouse gases, chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and carbon dioxide (Bonsor, 2000), will trap the heat of the sun, which in turn will warm up the planet. This increase in temperature will vaporize some of the carbon dioxide located in the south polar ice cap, adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and helping along the warming process. Water ice will begin to melt and provide the water necessary for the crew’s survival while simultaneously raising the pressure of the atmosphere. An oxygen mask will still be required for the crew to walk about Mars, though, as the pressure will not be raised high enough for them to go without one (Traicoff, 2011). At that point in the terraforming progression, Mars would be prepared for the crew’s arrival. In order to continue the terraforming process, trees could be planted (Traicoff, 2011) and photosynthetic bacteria could be utilized (Bonsor, 2000) to increase the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. Part of the crew’s job will be to ensure that further terraforming of the planet runs smoothly.

The crew’s base and the factories to be used in the terraforming process will be 3D-printed out of materials unearthed from one of the robotic mission’s rovers. Since the material is already available and does not have to be dug up, the building will be more efficient and not require another machine to be sent that can dig into the soil. A D-Shape printer, currently being worked on by the European Space Agency (ESA), will be employed to make this possible. The Martian material will first be ground up to ensure that it is fine enough to be used, then it will be combined with magnesium oxide, creating a sort of paper with which printing can occur. A binding salt will turn that mixture into a stone-like solid material after it has been printed. The printer sent to Mars will print 3.5 meters per hour, enabling an entire building to be constructed within a week. It is beneficial in that the structure, to be a hollow closed-cell design, will provide strength and weight at the same time (European Space Agency (ESA), 2015a). As the mission timeline reflects, it will take one year and three months to complete the factories and base. The factories will be started, and so finished, first, to maximize the time for terraforming to take place.

The buildings that make up the SHORES base will include labs, to carry out the experiments and data analysis the crew will perform; sleeping quarters, eating space, and recreation area in which the crew can live, play, relax, and exercise; a greenhouse, to allow the crew to grow food and plants for experiments; a communications bay, where the crew can communicate with mission control on Earth or loved ones; a hospital area to ensure that the crew remain healthy and safe during their stay on Mars; and a launch pad to allow the crew to return to Earth after the duration of their stay. These buildings are essential for the crew to be able to live and work on Mars and so make up an important mission element.

In order to get the crew to Mars, the mission elements of a multi-stage rocket and a crew arrival vehicle are needed. SHORES will employ the newly developed Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle as the means of transportation for the crew. The SLS is the most powerful rocket to have been built and will feature the largest payload capacity in history (National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, 2015b). This potent rocket will launch the Orion crew vehicle, an innovative and technologically advanced new spacecraft to transport humans for a manned mission. It includes a sophisticated launch abort system to ensure the safety of the crew. It also includes state-of-the-art life support systems to sustain the crew in transit (NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, 2015). With new technologies like these, getting humans to Mars will be made extremely possible and safe.

Life support systems are critical to crew survival. Life support is responsible for providing clean water and air to the crew and controlling the pressure, temperature, and humidity of the base. In order to provide water for the personnel, the colony will make use of the water now available due to terraforming and also utilize the Water Recovery System, currently employed by the ISS, which reclaims and purifies water from urine, condensation in the base, and waste water. To provide air for the personnel, the Oxygen Generation Assembly of the ISS will be used. It electrolyzes, or breaks apart, the water from the Water Recovery System, to produce hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is then delivered to the crew (NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, 2015a). In order to generate power for the life support systems and base operations, the base will use nuclear fission as a reliable and constant energy source (Hsu, 2008) in addition to solar power.

Communication systems are necessary to ensuring a properly running base that also allows the crew to get the help and support they need from teams on Earth. In addition, it is essential to crew mental health, as they will need a way to contact their loved ones, but even talking to mission control could help their mental state. SHORES will use the orbiter from the robotic mission for communications at first, during the beginning construction stage of the mission, but will send another, more advanced satellite with the crew. Since the orbiter for the robotic mission will have been orbiting Mars for 25 years by the time that the crew arrives, it will be old and probably not functioning well, or at least not as well as when it was new, and more advanced technology than that orbiter will certainly have been created by 2040.

The crew will launch from Mars to return to Earth in 2045. This will require additional mission elements to get them back. The 3D printer will create a launch pad to be utilized for this express purpose. The crew will be sent with the parts for a return vehicle and perform the assembly necessary to get it in working order so that they may use it to make the journey back to Earth.

Mission and System Requirements

The system elements of this mission include the many mission elements described earlier in the proposal. Alternatively, each mission element may also comprise a system, or subsystem depending on the context.

The following constitute many of the requirements of the mission and systems. In order to ensure a successful mission, these requirements should be fulfilled.

  • The rovers (from the robotic mission) shall have a lifetime of one year.

  • The orbiter and satellite shall provide communications between Earth and Mars.

  • The terraforming process shall begin after 25 factories have been completed.

  • The terraforming process shall begin in 2021.

  • The crew shall be launched when the Martian environment will support Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs) with only an oxygen mask.

  • The base shall make use of materials already available and unearthed.

Crew Responsibilities

A crew of fifteen people will make the journey to Mars for the SHORES mission. They will allow an unprecedented view of the planet and allow more autonomy for the mission than robotic missions, as humans have decision-making and research capabilities usually beyond the capacity of rovers. The crew will be responsible for ensuring mission success. They will take measurements to monitor the progress of the terraforming process, such as atmospheric composition and temperature readings; perform experiments and aid in the search for life on Mars in the present; analyze samples for fossils, to aid in the search for past life on Mars; ensure smooth running of the base, including supervising personal relations among the personnel and crew mental and physical health; maintaining the condition of life support and communications systems along with keeping up the condition of the base; and overseeing any construction that may occur while they are on the surface of Mars.

Risk Mitigation

There are many risks inherent to a manned mission to Mars that must be taken into account and prepared for. In any case that the danger can be mitigated, action should be taken. Some of the most prevalent risks include radiation, crew selection, meteorite impacts, the health of the crew, and the landing.

Radiation is a leading concern regarding a manned mission to Mars, as it affects the health of the crew in the short- and long-term. Short-term effects range from discomfort and illness, such as nausea and vomiting, to damage to the central nervous system. Long-term effects include cataracts and an increase in likelihood of developing cancer. The risk of radiation is also pertinent in that the effects will stay with the astronauts well after they have been exposed to it, or in this case after they have returned to Earth from Mars. The astronauts will have an increased chance of developing cancer, which will stay with them for the duration of their lives (Bevill, 2014). Radiation exposure is an in-transit and surface stay issue, as humans can receive doses in spacecraft and in the base on the Martian surface. To mitigate this risk in transit, the Orion crew vehicle has protective layers, but will also use the mass on board, such as equipment, supplies, launch and re-entry seats, water, and food, to increase the amount of shielding the crew receives without having to install anything else on the Orion (NASA, 2015a). To mitigate the risk on the surface, the 3D-printed habitat has a cellular structured wall that will protect from space radiation. It will also feature a pressurized inflatable shelter underneath the 3D-printed walls (ESA, 2015) made out of plastic, which also shields from radiation (Wall, 2013).

Crew selection is another risk of a manned mission. If the crew’s personalities are incompatible, they may not get along well enough to carry out the mission. On an individual basis, an astronaut could have a difficult time dealing with the demanding situations and environments they will encounter as a part of the SHORES mission, whether physically or mentally. Both physical and mental health should be taken into account for proper crew selection procedures that will mitigate the risks. In order to ensure a strong team that works well together, personnel will go through tests in which they must complete tasks and challenges by working together. Individuals will also meet mental and physical health standards. Crew member personalities will be evaluated and an interview process will be set in place to ensure that they have the necessary qualities, such as resiliency, adaptability, creativity and resourcefulness, ability to trust, and curiosity (Mars One, 2015). Even with a thorough crew selection process, risks due to human factors still remain. There will be a small amount of people in a relatively small space, which means that people are bound to get irritated with one another eventually. A member of the crew should be appointed to mediate in such situations, or an Earth-based team may assist. Such therapy measures are essential to maintaining a healthy and happy crew that can work together to complete the mission.

Meteoroid impacts are an in-transit concern for a manned mission to Mars. Meteoroids can cause damage ranging from small pits on the surface of the spacecraft to mission-critical impairment and cannot be tracked, as they are not large enough. Spacecraft can perform evasive maneuvers if the object can be tracked, but this option is not available with meteoroids, as they are too small. Because of their size, only passive protection techniques can be used. One such technique to reduce this risk that is currently utilized is Whipple shielding (ESA, 2015b), which aims to stop the meteoroid before it can cause harm to the spacecraft by using a sacrificial layer called a bumper that breaks up the projectile. The damage will reduce the shield strength until it can be repaired, and repair is not easy in space (Schultz, 2013), making mitigation of this risk especially imperative.

Other risks include the physical health of the crew and the landing. The physical health of the crew deteriorates in low gravity environments. Muscular strength, bone health, and cardiovascular fitness decline as the astronauts spend more time in space. To combat this physical depreciation, a strict exercise regime will be instilled, to include activities in transit and while the crew is living on the planet. The landing also presents danger to the crew. Mars will be harder to land on than the moon, as it has an atmosphere, and will have more of one with the SHORES terraforming processes, which, paired with Martian gravity, increase the difficulty and peril of the landing. One way to mitigate this risk is to put the crew in charge of the landing or part of the landing procedures. They can adjust based on any hazards they notice and will find themselves well-equipped for the task after going through training (Gray, 2013).

Mission Constraints

Mission constraints define the limitations of the mission. NASA Headquarters has set the constraint that the mission must launch by 2040, which limits the time to ready the mission, select crew, and terraform Mars. Similarly, NASA Headquarters also requires the crew to be back on Earth by 2045. Another limiting factor to the SHORES mission is the resources available on Earth and on Mars, paired with the limited ability to send supplies to Mars because of weight. This encourages resourcefulness, such as 3D-printing the base out of materials already available on Mars and deciding what is really necessary to bring in order to keep the weight, and thus the cost, at a minimum. The level of advancement of technology also constrains SHORES. The terraforming aspect is especially limited by available technology, as it has never been done before and scientists must apply what they already know to shape the Martian environment. As with any mission, time, money, and resources are of the utmost concern as constraints.

Although there are many limiting factors associated with a mission, the availability of developed or developing technology is increased by the use of international partners. SHORES will be an international mission, which introduces fewer constraints, as there are more countries and scientists to provide ideas, research, labor, access to technology, and funding. The ESA will be involved, as much of the technology incorporated into SHORES comes from that agency, but other countries will be added as the mission progresses from a proposal stage to an implementation phase.


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