Minimalist Human Mars Mission

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The Minimalist Human Mars Mission (aka MinMars) project aims to design a near-term feasible Mars missions based on the concept of sending humans on a one-way mission to the surface of Mars. A follow-on DevelopSpace project is focused on advancing the state of the art of Mars surface systems, see Mars Surface for more information.

Project Overview

Project aims to design a near-term feasible human Mars mission based on the concept of sending humans one way to Mars. This approach has a number of advantages compared to the tradition "there-and-back" exploration approach that all previous human space missions have followed, particularly with regard to the mass requirements of the mission. The humans on Mars would be re-supplied periodically and would have the tools and infrastructure for a mostly self-sustained existence. An emergency return capability based on the direct return approach could be provided to mitigate the effects of catastrophic equipment failure on Mars; it is one of the goals of the project to determine the cost of providing such a return capability. This initial Mars outpost (Mars "toehold") could also be the nucleus of an initial Mars colony, growing over time through dispatching additional crew and infrastructure to the outpost.

Project Motivation

For many reasons, it is our destiny as humans to expand our presence. since the existence of our species, we have expanded our habitat over almost the entire Earth. This expansion was enabled by using technology (e.g. living in central Europe or northern Minnesota and surviving the winter). The next logical step is to go beyond Earth. This requires more significant reliance on technology. In addition to expanding our presence, there may be numerous other benefits from this such as rekindling of frontier spirit, societal invigoration, generating new technologies and knowledge, backing up our species and its achievements.

Why Mars?

Why would we want to expand to Mars, instead of other destinations such as the Moon?

Of all the bodies of the inner solar system eligible for near-term colonization, Mars is the most suitable. Mars has an atmosphere, specifically a CO2 atmosphere (GCR/SPR protection, feedstock for ISRU). All the other elements necessary for sustained human existence are present in one form or another on the Martian surface (nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, iron, aluminum, etc). From a mass/energy perspective, the Martian surface is about as hard to reach as the lunar surface. Mars has a higher gravity level than on the Moon.

Major challenges of Mars are that it takes longer to get there and aeroentry / aerocapture is required.

Why are we interested in doing this?

The establishment of a self-sustained human colony off the Earth should be one of the driving goals of human spaceflight.

Mars surface is the most suitable place for establishing a self-sustained human colony in the foreseeable future.

Architecture-level analysis is effective in identifying the driving challenges for establishing the toehold and guide future analyses.

How to Colonize Mars

Many ideas have been put forth (Zubrin, Case for Mars conference proceedings, etc). Here are some initial ideas for our project:

  • Humans will be sent one way, possibly with an initial emergency return capability (return capability could be based on direct return)
  • Re-supply will initially be provided from Earth, possibly augmented with ISRU on Mars (initially atmosphere-based ISRU / possibly also greenhouses for growing food)
  • The population of the colony will be assumed to grow over time (maybe 4 crew initially, minimum of 2 additional every opportunity)

Project Goals

1. To determine what would be involved in implementing a sustained human presence on Mars in the near future by way of one-way colonization for minimum closure and maximum closure levels for constant or growing population size.

2. To investigate the cost of providing the colony with the capability for emergency evacuation back to Earth.

3. To gain an understanding of the financial needs and the time phasing of a near-term Mars colonization program.

4. To further develop the DevelopSpace infrastructure through identification of infrastructure needs.

MinMars Toehold Architecture

Architecture Tradespace:

  • In-situ water production: yes, no
  • Mars surface landed mass: 2 mt, 8 mt, 45 mt
  • Significant in-situ food production: yes, no

Invariant architecture choices:

  • Oxygen production from Mars atmosphere
  • Water recycling
  • In-situ production of a limited amount of vegetables and fruit
  • Power generation and energy storage using amorphous silicon arrays and Li-ion batteries

Operational Architecture

The overall operational architecture for the initial toehold is based on one-way flights delivering cargo and crew to the Martian surface (potentially with an emergency return capability). Mars capture is assumed to be accomplished by aerocapture. Subsequent lifting entry and propulsive descent are used to deliver payloads to the single surface outpost site (outpost location is subject to a variety of factors (insolation, water, elevation). The exact size and payload capability of each lander depends on the Earth departure architecture and entry body chosen.

Major Challenges Identified

Mars entry, descent, and landing of 10+ mt payloads

  • What would be the entry mass associated with 10 mt payloads?
  • What is the landing accuracy that can be achieved?

Food production on the surface of Mars

  • Is it worthwhile; break-even with re-supply from Earth?
  • Food production architecture analysis

Spare parts re-supply / in-situ production & manufacturing strategy

  • What is the cumulative spare parts need without manufacturing?
  • Which spare parts can be easily manufactured on Mars?
  • What manufacturing infrastructure should be imported first?
  • What raw materials can be easily produced on the surface of Mars?

Mars surface habitation infrastructure design / deployment

  • Especially for transportation scenarios where Mars surface payload capability is closer to 1 mt (MSL)

Test of solar array deployment

  • Build a prototype and test deploy

Models and Results

Areas of Focus

The following pages include more in-depth discussion of the work done on the critical areas of designing a minimalist human Mars mission:

Conference Papers on MinMars

IAC 2008

The following repository contains our IAC 2008 paper and presentation.

IAC 2010

The following repository contains our IAC 2010 abstract.

Subversion Repository

Subversion version control system used to store files associated with this project. Repository is available at For more information on how to use the repository, see the SVN page.

Read-only access to the repository is available to anyone. For write access, please contact

Additional Information

Mars Wish List

The Mars Wish List page lists a number of items which would be useful at the initiation of a minimalist human Mars mission, such as being designed by this project.

MinMars Follow-On Projects

The MinMars project has identified a number of enabling technologies / systems required for establishing a human Mars surface toehold. For these focus areas, separate projects will be established on DevelopSpace in the near future.

The Follow-on Projects page lists the identified focus areas.

Project Team

  • Arthur Guest
  • Thomas Coffee
  • Alessandro Golkar
  • Chase Cooper
  • Ryan McLinko
  • Alar Kolk
  • Aaron Schultz
  • Emily Grosse (listening in)

Our project mailing list:


A list of key references for this project can be found at MinMars/References.