This question continues story of one ESA vs NASA battle on Mars. I tried to put everything important into this question. Also, being from Europe, I took ESA side as the one winning:

  • Year: 2100ish
  • Mars: Two 'surface,' permanent scientific research colonies with a little over 100 scientists and engineers in each with an additional support crew (geologist, psychologist & medical, etc.) to about 150 people each, with the common utilities, agrarian setups, etc.

The nerds in Colony ESA have just had it with Colony NASA, about 100km across Elysium plains, and they went there and did burst their bubble. (Literally)

The question: How will Earth handle this?

It is safe to assume that both colonies are under constant surveillance from ground control. It is also safe to assume that NASA and ESA are still "friends" and the setup of having two colonies instead one is because they got great fundings - so why not build two?

It is also safe to assume, that there is some crew rotation (people and material are being exchanged on regular basis)

Example from Google Image Search

The time is Battle + 15 minutes. Ground control of both teams is getting first shocking images of whats happening on Mars. And you know that until they receive first orders, everything will be over...

What happens next?

Edit: Trying to make the question less opinion based: Assume there is only one NASA+ESA joint resupply mission and next one is about to launch, arriving to Mars in half a year.

Usually this resuply mission has about 7 months of food + oxygen + water supplies for all the crew + 12 people to go on rotation mission (6 NASA, 6 ESA). The resuply frequency is 6 months.

So, lets scope the question like this: Who do I send out in next resupply mission? (profession wise obviously). And how has NASA + ESA proceed is they (obviously) want Mars mission to continue?

  • $\begingroup$ I wrote a big, long answer and before I could submit, this was closed? $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Aug 16 '15 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, but this is pretty clearly asking about what individual people would do, which is impossible to answer. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Aug 16 '15 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey I've re opened it. Post your answer and we'll see if it changes my mind. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Aug 16 '15 at 9:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Bahaha, I wrote a long answer, then deleted it (from closure), then I just finished re-writing it, and the question changed/narrowed. It's going to be a long morning. :) $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Aug 16 '15 at 10:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ However I'll leave it for now and see what happens. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Aug 16 '15 at 11:41

NASA/ESA Repsonse


The officials should be shocked. After Houston kept telling the astronauts, for example, to 'just learn to get along,' they will have decided to take things into their own hands and through a series of discussions in 'safe' spaces or on notes of paper, they planned their battles. It wasn't until T minus an-hour-or-so before they departed that NASA/ESA realized their scientists weren't going to take it any more.

(Short-term) Attempt at Cover-up

This is a situation with precedent. Just as whenever there's a situation (riots or whatever), there's a scramble.

I don't think it would be an attempt to cover-up permanently, because this will obviously not be successful, but governments and private companies, and even kids who broke a window with a baseball try to keep it a secret until they can think what to do. In this scenario, frantic phone calls are made between agencies internally and among the countries involved.

"Hi, Mr. President, we have a situation..."

"They what-the-WHAT?"

Damage Control

Heads of agencies, involved companies and government officials are scrambling to figure out what to do. It's hard to punish an employee who is a permanent colonist on a planet 140 million miles away. The press liasons are woken from bed to get onto the case and make sure that the spin is just so: the actions were unprecedented, atypical, and will be handled immediately.

Finger Pointing

This seems inevitable. Everyone wants to assign a cause to a situation, to help understand it, and there will be no end to this. It wouldn't be between the two agencies, rather between sub-sets of organizations and governments. The pressure put on the nerds by a rigorous schedule, or even petty things (the geologists from NASA were not allowed to study an area, because ESA claimed the area with a likelihood for astonishing discovery, for example).

The economic and political effects can be complex. However, property destruction and harm to individuals are often immediately measurable and will be assigned. In order to separate government responsibility from the actions of the nerds, I speculate that they would assign this as a 'riot,' and not politically motivated or assigned actions.

Re-route Supplies and Relief Personnel

The relief supplies would have to be enhanced by shifting some of the weight of long-term supplies (soils & plants for future planting, laboratory equipment, etc.) with that of equipment and personnel to either return the remaining scientists or to contain them until they can be returned.

This could include mechanisms for locating them (the nerds that won the battle know not to hang around, and have contingency for this), and then disabling their mobility.

Aside: Public Outcry

Phone calls will be made, statements will be made. People who already have disdain for space exploration will use this forever as an argument to defund future space exploration, manned or otherwise. Also, so much for childrens' role models.


The most effective way for the US and EU to defuse any political fallout over the rogue actions of a bunch of scientists is to call it exactly that in public. Admit to their errors in judgement in choosing (as yet unknown) members of the Mars teams who could go on to commit murder, and state that the number one priority is now not only to rescue the innocent, but also to arrest and prosecute the guilty.

To that end, the 12 crew members who were scheduled to go out on the next resupply mission would be withdrawn, and instead a 10-strong team of military- and police- trained investigators, all with combat experience in either a civilian or military conflict, as well as experience in rescue operations, drawn equally from both the US and EU and ideally having professional experience and friendships with one-another, would be substituted. All of the new/replacement scientific gear would be removed and substituted with military and investigatory equipment for the use of the investigators to bring the perpetrators of this "unwarranted violence" to justice. The last two positions would be specially selected psychologists, again from both the US and EU, who would be working to determine what caused the build-up of tensions that led to the open conflict, and what could be done to prevent them from accumulating in future missions.

Despite both the US and the EU wanting the missions to continue, they must publically speak as if cancelling the missions entirely is a high probability - which in fact it is. Until the rogue elements in both facilities can be identified and arrested, the missions are in jeopardy. The best option from the Earth-siders point of view may be to entirely replace the existing Mars teams with entirely new teams.

It is unlikely that the perpetrators could escape justice for long once the resupply ship arrives. While they know the environment better, Mars is still a hostile environment, and environment suits have limited supplies. They would be forced to either surrender or attempt to fight off the investigators from whatever bolthole they could find, and the investigators would have vastly superior combat skills, likely backed up by armoured environment gear that the rogue scientists would have trouble dealing with.

In any event, it is one thing (as most likely happened) to pop an enemy environment dome using a drone, and entirely another thing to face multiple trained soldiers and police officers each armed with a gun selected and loaded to deal with precisely the sort of protection the scientists may be able to muster. In all likelihood, the scientists will surrender immediately rather than fight, and the probable fate of the first one who doesn't will encourage the rest to choose a wiser course of action.

Once the scientists have all been rounded up and placed in protective custody, and all the bodies identified, or at least accounted for, the investigators will begin the investigatory side of the operation, attempting to determine who did what.

At the very least, the suspects will be returned to Earth for trial on charges including murder and terrorism, and the investigators may conclude that the entire scientific team needs to be replaced eventually.

Regardless, the suspects will be shipped back to Earth in custody, while the investigators remain to fulfil a police role in order to keep the peace between those who remain.

Back on Earth, after debates over jurisdiction in which it is suggested that each body prosecute its own nationals, the perpetrators will appear in highly publicised trials in the Hague, which, based on the Outer Space Treaty has jurisdiction over crimes committed in space. See also: https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/683/jurisdiction-over-crime-in-space.

Since the crimes in question are murder and terrorism, there will be no question as to whether the alleged actions are worthy of prosecution or not, as both the US and the EU have laws concerning the accused's actions.

As to the outcome of the trial... who can say?


While there would be the usual coverup/deflect/finger pointing aspect of bureaucratic and political response, I suspect that there would be another level of response, which is the sheer bloody mindedness of people.

Many people will have been invested in the project, and of course the astronauts will have been celebrities in certain social media circles (as well as real celebrities in other aspects of their lives), as well as having lots of family and influential friends. There will be a massive outcry for something to be done to avenge the loss of so many lives and so much equipment, not to mention the political capital that had been expended in setting up the expedition in the first place.

I suspect the joint resupply venture will be the first thing scuttled, as each side accuses the other of manipulating the manifest to the benefit/detriment of one group of astronauts. Certainly the astronauts themselves slated for the mission are going to have some grave doubts about the other parties aboard; if two teams of supposedly complimentary astronauts on Mars went to war, resulting in the destruction of a base and the deaths of many astronauts, then what could possibly happen aboard the resupply ship during its long transfer orbit to Mars? A secondary consideration is that one base has been destroyed, so any surviving astronauts will be busy trying to do a "Mark Watney" and need help as fast as possible. An unmanned supply vessel launched on a high energy trajectory transfer will be needed ASAP, and since you stipulate that the NASA side lost, NASA will be pulling all their resources and technical ability to the task and not to a joint resupply mission. (If the ESA side had lost, the same factors would apply).

The anger would also spill over on the Earth at many levels. Boycotts against products made in the EU would begin an informal trade war between the two sides, and the EU would also lose American tourism and other forms of exchange, creating economic disruptions. More formal actions against the EU would be called for by politicians and political groups eager to hitch their wagon to a popular cause (and various parties in the EU would be calling for the same against the US, leading to a situation where parties like the UKIP, Front National, Golden Dawn and other more or less radical parties whip up popular support among the European voters).

Depending on how far the agitation goes, this might provoke more robust actions between the two governments. Even if it does not by itself, nations like Russia and China will seek to inflame the situation through "Active Measures" (propaganda and other campaigns to mould public opinion in a desired direction), potentially causing the same effect. While the Americans might not want to kill the ESA astronauts in cold blood, they could make it very clear that the ESA will not be launching anything until the United States is satisfied that certain conditions are met (most likely the arrival of the relief ship and resupply of the American astronauts stranded on Mars).

At this point, the huge resource mismatch between the United States and the EU will begin to be felt. The US can put lots of pressure on the EU through lots of different means (political, military and economic), and as noted, NASA and the private US space industry can respond to directly support their astronauts on Mars by sending relief supplies by high energy transfer orbits. The ESA has only one supplier to build extra rockets (unless they decide to hire the Russians or Chinese to build rockets for them, which would be a nasty can of political worms to open), while the United States can hire SpaceX, Orbital, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop-Grunmann and and entire second tier of would be rocket makers to crank out orbital vehicles and infrastructure to not only rescue the US astronauts, but establish a robust permanent presence on Mars as well (even if the US government isn't explicitly interested in doing so, Elon Musk has openly stated that this is his goal; he is hardly going to turn down a gilded opportunity to fulfill his life dream).

Winning the battle and losing the war is alway a risk when you take up arms, and the end results of armed conflict are rarely what either side envisioned before the start of the conflict. The only potentially "good" outcome of all this is a robust Martian colony is now possible, and the infrastructure for much larger scale space exploration is now in place. I suspect that the second order effect will be space colonies will have a robust protective service attached to prevent this sort of thing from happening again, ranging from private security forces hired by the colonists to actual contingents of national military forces brought by the colonizing nations themselves.


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