100 years in the future, Mars has been colonised. New settlers and resources arrive from Earth every 26 months (when the planetary orbit lines up best) by first taking the space elevator to Earth orbit and then using a large one-way ship to get to Mars. The ship is designed to be one-way, landing on Mars and then stripped to be reused around the Martian colonies, a Mars space elevator is in the works, which, once completed, would allow true two-way travel between the Earth and Mars or at least that was the plan before the blackout happened.

One day all communication with anything outside Mars stopped (Earth, the next colony ship that was in route to Mars & even the crew working on the Mars space elevator in Mars orbit), an event that among the Martian settlers came to be known as the blackout, no one knows what happened, but for the purpose of this question, it's safe to assume that every human being outside Mars is dead and every man-made machine outside Mars stopped working.

Tech level

The technology of the Mars colonies is near future (100 years) earth level. Things such as food, water and air have been fully self-sufficient even before the blackout with Mars-based greeneries, fish farms, algae farms, and vat-grown farms providing food, fuel (biofuel), bioplastics & a certain level of medicine (basically any form of medicine that can be grown), it also provides some building materials (wood & bamboo) while some other resources (stone, sand (for making glass) metal, water, earth elements) are mined on Mars, the only things that were dependent on supply from Earth were things that are so advanced that they couldn't yet be produced on Mars, like the more advanced parts of computers & cellphones, advanced medicines, advanced robotics, etc.

The colonies' electricity comes from multiple sources, solar panels (imported from Earth) provide some power, but mostly it is either nuclear power or from burning local biofuel.

Mars is not terraformed, and the colonists live in a mixture of domed cities, caves, underground areas & above-ground buildings made from local stone & metal.

Travel between areas of the same colonies never requires stepping outside an unpressurised area (underground subways being the most common form of transport in larger colonies and walking in tunnels in the smaller ones), travel between colonies is usually done with pressurised above-ground vehicles and trains but some colonies which are close enough to each other also have underground transport from one another.

Mars society

While most Martian colonists are Earth-born, there is a small (but growing) number who are Martian born. Giving birth on Mars has proven possible with about the same level of difficulty it is on Earth; it's entirely possible to give birth on Mars without any medical assistance, but most still prefer to see a doctor (much the same as on Earth).

Mars is, in fact, an array of colonies connected to each other, each providing some resources to other colonies, but no single colony is the sole provider of any resource. There is some friendly competition among the different colonies in much the same way that some city residents in the same country like to talk about other cities. Still, when the blackout strikes, they pull together to survive.

Martian colonists put a lot of emphasis on being as self-reliant as possible, even before the blackout. 3d printing and machine shops are common occupation on Mars as well as other productive professions (there aren't a lot of advertisers on Mars, assume all colonist has useful skills or are young and still in school).

Assume the colonies are of the minimal size needed to survive long term; if your answer requires a minimum of 10,000 people to survive, then that's the colony's size; if it's a million, then a million it is.

The question

Can the colony, as described above, survive long-term? For this question surviving means the most basic of needs being met, if they have water, air, food, a place to put their head for the night & the ability to give offspring who will get the same, that's enough, even if any sort of luxury they used to have is gone in the process.

As time passes, what resources they had from Earth will break down, and if they are required for survival, they will need to be replaced with a locally made substitute. Is there any piece of equipment or resource that couldn't possibly be made by the colonists that is required for survival on Mars?

If the answer is no, please provide the exact reason why the colony can't survive, don't just say, "They couldn't possibly reproduce anything needed without Earth's help", but rather say something like "X requires the element Y which doesn't exist on Mars and can't be synthetically manufactured dooming everyone".

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    $\begingroup$ Please decide, is it 100 years or 200 years? Remember, in less than 100 years, we went from 'flying is impossible' to landing on the moon. The difference between now, 100 years from now, and 200 years from now is not a minor difference, Imagine 100 years ago, predicting what we have today. In 100 years, we will certainly have fusion, cancer will be curable, and genetic Crisper technology will be widely used. Oil will have been completely depleted. In 200 years, we can not even imagine what we will have, Inter-galaxy travel, for sure. The physics textbook will be very thick, indeed. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 3:46
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    $\begingroup$ ' from burning local biofuel.' I can assure you, the LAST thing they will do on Mars is to use oxygen to burn biofuel. Not even methane will be burned.on earth in 100 years. it will be converted directly to hydrogen and used in hydrogen fuel cells. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Edited to keep to 100 years, don't want it to be too out there. $\endgroup$
    – cypher
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ This is a horrible question, you are asking people to predict what the pitfalls of technology will be like in 100 years where PhDs can barely do that in 5 years. Even worse you are handwaviumly assert broad technologies work magically and infallibly without any description of how that's achieved. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @anon The question is very straightforward. Given our current knowledge about what resources are available on Mars (handwaving would be the suggestion that EVERY earthly element and material is available in all necessary quantities on Mars, in some hidden deposit we haven't found) will a Mars colony be able to be self-sufficient? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 22:27

8 Answers 8



You mentioned that martians don't have access to or the ability to create the advanced medicines they used to have sent in from earth? A very real reason the colony could fail could be plague. You have a ton of people with heightened radiation exposure living in dense proximity with possibly simpler and poorer diets. In addition they have lived in a sterile environment, and just like anything in our bodies if you don't use it you lose it, so their immune systems would already be struggling in addition to the extra radiation and potentially less varied diet. A plague could kill off enough of the valuable labor force that they can no longer support the industries critical to survival.

Producing things like vaccines is a very major hurdle they would have to face, since doing so is already incredibly difficult here on earth. Additionally the fact that the simple antibiotics they can develop could be ineffective against resistant strains. One person living in close proximity with many others developing an antibiotic resistant strain of staph or something could rapidly infect others.


Its not impossible to overcome, its just a real threat to the success of the colony that I think a lot of people tend to overlook in space colonization.


the only things that where depended on supply from earth was things that are so advanced that they couldn't yet be produced on mars like the more advanced parts of computers & cellphones, advanced medicines, advanced robotics, etc.

That's the rub. Today's technology relies on computer chips to control just about everything. You've got a 3D printer? Well, you need a controller. You've got a vehicle? Well, try getting it to move without the chips that control its motors. I'd wager that you wouldn't be able to open a single door, run a single air conditioner, convert power from the solar arrays to usable voltages, run mining machines, run nuclear power plants, or use about any other kind of machine that your mars population relies on, without some chips that are contained within that same machine. Chips are literally everywhere in modern life, and will be even much more so in your colonies.

In addition to being everywhere in modern life, chips are by far the most difficult things to create. Chips seem cheap to us, because they are created in large series once the process has been fully set up. But setting up the process is insanely costly. So, your Martians will be very hard put to create their own microchip fabs as quickly as they need.

Because, and that is the final nail in the coffin, chips are irreparable once they are broken. For the first years, everything will continue working inside the colonies, but anytime a chip fails, it's gone for good, and there is no way of replacing it.

After about five years, people would start feeling the pains of the resulting decline in working machines.

After about ten years, some areas may get into serious supply problems, because the amount of machines that are still working is just too small.

I think, your colonist won't be able to go more than twenty years without people dying from the consequences, and violent fighting for the remaining working machines.

After about fifty years, Mars should be as dead again as it is today.

The only way around this fate seems to be, to have the Martian colonies be so large, and so focused on providing for themselves, that they are already on the verge of building their first own chip fab when the blackout strikes. The further this fab is from outputting its first chip at the time of the blackout, the more dire the consequences will be for the Martians.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, chips are really easy to make. They can even be made on ISS. it's mass producing them that takes all the complexity. In point of fact, computer chips are probably one of the first industrial processes that will be set up on Mars, because of the low gravity and low atmosphere, to protect from impurities. On earth, the major effort is just to keep the fab installations clean. Making the master mask is complex, but once made, it is easy to use. Chips will be made, but chip development will be hampered. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ And incidentally, we are using chips that were made twenty years ago, to repair older technology. Once made, a chip will last in storage indefinitely. With a supply ship every two years or so, I am sure they would have a very good supply of replacement chips on hand. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme That's new to me that they are producing chips on the ISS. Do you have a reference? But even if they do, they will not be producing anything near 14nm technology. The bigger the process, the easier it is to make chips. And the less stuff you can put on the chip. Chips with real time constraints (controllers!) need to perform at a certain minimum speed, and include a certain minimum circuitry. And for that they need to be manufactured at a certain size or smaller. So, even if you can manufacture coarse chips, you are still very far from supplying spare parts for existing machines. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 5:54
  • $\begingroup$ '...and they can even be made on the ISS' does NOT mean they ARE being made, just that the technology exists to do so. The actual machine that does all of the 'etching' and 'depositing' is not all that big. It is the intellectual property rights that are the hold back, not the process. An installation that can do one chip can do any chip of that level. All it takes is the proper 'masks'. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ ' building their first own chip fab ' making high-precision impurity-free chips is one of the proposed uses for a Martian colony. Make the wafers in orbit (no gravity, vacuum, very high temperatures), ship them to the surface for imaging, then ship them to earth. Lower gravity means lower cost to get the wafers between space and surface. The moon works, but Mars is more hospitable for colonization, self-sufficiency, teraforming. Computer chips, per gram, are more expensive than gold. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 5:00

My first comment was made moot by the edit restriction to 100 years, so I give you a second answer.

One restriction that will almost be certain is in the area of advanced research, especially physics. There is an antecedent on earth, to a limited extent.

I sincerely doubt that anyone would have built an equivalent to Cern on Mars within 100 years. This particle accelerator is fundamental to any further exploration into particle physics. I suspect that we will still be exploring the nature of quantum physics, and there will still be particles that we know about in theory only.

The antecedent today is America. A few decades ago, the American scientific community made the deliberate decision to stay out of particle physics exploration, putting their money elsewhere. Cern was built in Europe, and this meant America was out of the Nobel Prize in Physics for over a decade. America stagnated, frankly, and has missed several decades in physics advancement. It is still stuck in the 'Einstein period' - cosmological physics instead of particle physics.

So your Martian intellectual community will go through a very long drought in advanced physics discovery. I suspect that things like advanced spaceship drive technology and quantum mechanics applications will be put on ice for a very long time. Any scientific advancement will be limited to explorations that can be done in a standard general-purpose University-type lab setting.

It will not necessarily be any missing 'material' stuff that impedes survival, but it will be the missing research mega-infrastructure that limits advancement.

The physics textbook will not get much thicker for a very long time.


TL:DR Without a Blackout, 200 years from now Mars will be much like my first answer. With a Blackout, Mars in 200 years will be very much like Mars is in 100 years from now.


Each of these is a machine that produces the most modern chip. Easy to get one of these to Mars.

Each of these is a machine tah produces a chip from https://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/01/15/intel_fab_42_stays_shut/

  • $\begingroup$ Is that machine all that takes or is it just one machine in a long process of a lot of different steps each with it's own machine? $\endgroup$
    – cypher
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @cypher That as I understand the article, is THE step in actually 'depositing' the chip onto the wafer. But if it is not, the machine that does it is similar. The wafers are made in a separate process, and sliced elsewhere. Thee is a separate testing station, and of course the actual 'masks' (think photographic negatives) are designed elsewhere. And a similar sized machine builds the actual chip into the final package, with the connection pins sticking out. But this is where the chip itself is fabricated. The process is really, really easy. Precise, but easy. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 4:38

I don't see any show stoppers.

100-200 years in the future, I will presume you have all the energy you need indefinitely, by solar or fusion. Although the sunlight is much reduced, all the materials you need to build solar panels are available; and the collection farms can be as vast as necessary (and there are no cloudy days!). They could be built, cleaned and maintained by non-intelligent robots; guided remotely by humans; energy farming could be one of the many jobs on Mars.

Also, to defeat another suggested fault, the Mars Rover has found nitrogen in the form of nitrates in the crust of Mars, released simply by heating of the sample. So nitrogen can be mined by automated machines powered by those solar gathering stations.

With sufficient energy and simple centrifugal mining, crust and rock could be crushed, heated to release gases (which we capture and separate), melted, spun at high G while cooling and separated into its constituent heavy parts; primarily silicon.

Automated chemistry should be advanced enough by then (100-200 years from now) to let us produce all the compounds we need. They can produce their own computer chips and electronics; most of that is automated and computer work, which by Moore's Law will be awesomely fast by then. For that same reason, computational chemistry will be so advanced, we should be able to recombine those elements produced from processing the crust as needed to produce any compounds we need.

One problem you might have is a limited genetic pool, you are creating a definite population bottleneck. The human race may have been through a period with less than 10,000 individuals; I don't know if you have even that many on Mars.

However, you could immediately, with their tech, harvest and preserve the DNA of every one of them, collecting cheek-swab samples from all, and both sperm and egg from adults, to remain frozen (pretty easy on Mars), in order to preserve whatever biodiversity you already have. Biological tech should have advanced by this point to actually allow cloning, if necessary, and we are already having some success with CRISPR to replace individual genes with other genes, that tech should be very routine (and even old-fashioned) in coming centuries.


Your Uranium may run out. As far as I'm aware Uranium isn't available on mars, and being a major source of energy makes it important for your colonists. Luckily you can make do with extra solar panels until you can make biofuel production efficient enough to replace your nuclear plants.

(Mars may have Uranium, its hard to tell from earth though.)

  • $\begingroup$ Breeder reactors? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @0something0 That's a good idea, though if they aren't already set up conversion may be difficult. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ In 100 years, probably fusion reactors. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Not convinced we can create a fusion reactor that generates more energy than it uses, but if we do develop it then we'll still need hydrogen or helium or whatever to use as fuel. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Clay Deitas Purely an American-centric view, because America just doesn't get it. They are so BACKWARDS today, they are in danger of obsolescence. They are puting all their money into stock buybacks, instead of research. 'Fusion energy is a national priority for the European Union, China, South Korea, and Japan – all have specific goals, timescales, and funding to implement successful fusion energy programs.' from generalfusion.com/progress-in-fusion-energy-technology $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 23:14

EDIT This answer has been made moot because of the change in the question to 100 years in the future, but the last part is still relevant.

In 200 years, Mars will be completely self-sustaining. If the timeline for the development of North America is any indication, the population will certainly be pushing on one million. With that many inhabitants, there will be enough intelligence to solve pretty much any problem that comes along. It will all be just engineering.

And in 200 years, the physics textbook will be at least 100 times thicker than it is now, and totally integrated with the biology textbook. Quantum effects and quantum mechanics will be routinely used. Quantum computing and quantum entanglement will be integrated into everything.

Manufacturing will have progressed pretty close to that of Star Trek replicators. It will be 3D printing on steroids. Any material, including metals. Once printed, they will be molecularly fused together in post-processing. Enter the right file, and out pops anything you need. Instructions will be on the Internet (or whatever it becomes) for any chemical reaction or process. Drugs and medications will be produced biologically, using Crisper gene editing. We will have perfected DNA-style manufacturing, where the 'product' is coded in synthetic DNA and replicated pretty much like cells manufacture body parts today, except that the 'amino acids' and the 'proteins' will all be boutique designed, and they will be the building blocks of anything we want built.

There will be no need for large scale mega machines. Thousands of small bots, instead. Each bot made in a synthetic custom-designed biological simulation cell.

Electronics components are surprisingly easy to make. What limits their productivity on earth is not the ability to manufacture them, it is intellectual property rights. Patents.

I have no doubt that your Mars survivors will not be hampered by any legal restrictions on patent infringement.


If this is set 100 years in the future it is far from clear whether your colony will have or need any humans at all. Can't AIs and robots do everything necessary, more safely, efficiently and cheaply than humans? (And it would certainly be smart enough to make anything needed locally)

I suspect any humans would basically be like the idle aristocracy of the 18th century, pretty irrelevant to the operations of the Martian machinery. They might be completely plugged in to their version of the internet on a permanent basis, which might offer a much more rewarding life than anything Mars had to offer. Would they even notice Earth had gone?


Anything that demands genetic code, manufacturing, large/expensive/complicated items

First, is such a colony credible?

Well, Andrew Weir made a viable one-person Mars colony credible.

enter image description here

Image Credit: Netflix

So add another 100 years and — yes — getting a colony started is very credible.

Second, is it long-term sustainable?

With Earth support, if it is startable, it is sustainable. There is nothing on Mars that risks running out that makes a colony be able to start and then suffer a shortage.

Third, is it sustainable with no outside support?

Here, I say you can use your author's prerogative and add suitable amounts of helps and hardships. With a time gap of 100 years, you can credibly add enough enablers to find that fine balance of both credible survivability and credible problems that makes for a good story.

So, to answer your question: what would be credible issues when Earth support is cut off?

  • Anything that demands a complete genetic code to work, in other words plants, agriculture, bacterial cultures needed for medicine, water treatment, sour dough, beer, cheese, penicillin.

  • Rare Earth Materials, such as neodymium, indium and other such metals that we find in pretty much any modern tech, especially electronics.

  • Earth crated/served hardware, such as satellites. What if — for instance — the Martian GPS network and satellite communications was shipped from Earth. As the existing network degrades, or is maybe even shut off due to malicious interference from Earth, this will cause hardships.

    But also large machinery, such as dirt-movers, mine borers, extractors, manufacturing plants. You can select any number of things where the Martians discover "Oh, bother... we cannot make those here".

The point is, you — as an author — can both credibly make such a base sustainable, and also credibly create hardships. And with a 100 year time span, you will have a big pallette of both enablers and hardships to choose from.

  • $\begingroup$ The situation in The Martian wasn't a long-term colony, let alone a self-sustaining one - it was simply a lifeboat, extending how long one person could last before rescue. They're not comparable situations at all. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence I never said they were equivalent, that was not the point. The point was that with present day technology, Weir made it credible that a person can survive on Mars. And recall that it was a makeshift colony. Hence, this sets the bar for what is credible. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ mars does have a power issue, weaker solar and fewer radioactive elements. there are not many good ways to generate industrial power on mars. And living on mars demands a lot more power generation than on earth. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ @John And? All you have said now is "power supply is tricker". So what? Everything(!) is trickier on Mars. That does not provide any kind of showstopper for anything. So I am wondering what was the point of the comment. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ you said there was nothing on mars they risk running out of, there is, power, presumably they are shipping radioisotopes from either earth or the asteroid belt. Also presumably long supply chain manufacturing intense items like computer chips are also shipped from earth. Most countries don't even make their own it is highly unlikely mars will considering they are light and g-robust enough to make shipping reasonable. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 20:11

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