Follow up to this question: How would earth goverments respond to killing of most of a colony to keep the rest alive long enough for rescue but with a different approach.

The same scenario occurs. The first colony to mars suffers a disaster. To clarify points form last time this is an early colony designed only to prove that mars colonization is possible. It has no children, only 1,000 highly skilled men and women who signed up for a dangerous proof-of-concept mission. These men and women come from multiple nations and was launched as multinational effort, spearheaded by most of the big superpower economic nations.

The colony has been on mars for a year or two. It has managed to create a system that can produce sufficient food to provide for all colonists, even a slight excess. Things are looking good when martian weather strikes, the equivalent of a tornado or other natural disaster strikes the dome, a freak accident as the odds of such a storm occurring and striking the small colony were absurdly low. The hydroponics area is destroyed, as is much of their com equipment.

They know that Earth will realize they lost coms within a day or two when they don't make their schedule communications and start to organize a rescue mission. However, it will take some time to organize and reach them and they lack the food to survive that long.

The governor makes a difficult decision, he arranges for 600 people to be killed to save the remaining 400 from starving. He arranges to poison their food supply, without telling anyone beyond a very select few required to enact the plan because he knows some of the citizens would not cooperate. He uses a semi-random approach. He selects some that must survive (like anyone with knowledge on how to keep what limited food production they still have running), and a few that will definitely die due to other illness and any who have had an emotional breakdown from the stress and are no longer functioning. He also selects a few groups of which he needs to ensure at least one survive, for instance one of 3 trained in servicing the life support must survive etc. Beyond those he picks to save to preserve the colony he arranges for most of the rest to have a random chance of being poisoned. In total he decided the absolute fate of ~75 citizens, the rest are given a random chance rather or not their poisoned.

On other catch, he chooses to poison himself, knowing that he will almost certainly be sentenced to death for this decision were he to survive. He does, however, ensure his second in command will not be poisoned since someone needs to lead. He does not explicitly tell his second of his plan, though it's clear that the second could easily infer it was going on the governor orders him not to ask any questions and simply focus on learning everything needed to prepare him for keeping the colony alive until rescue comes. those few others who knew about the plan are all poisoned as well.

When rescue arrives most of the 400 not poisoned are alive but close to starvation, in fact another 100 or so die before the situation stabilizes, since the rescue mission did not know to bring a stockpile of food and even though they could help fix the hydroponics to start growing food it would take some time before the colony could again sustain itself. It is impossible to evacuate all of the colonists back home with the first rescue ship, so many are left in a partially repaired colony.

The Earth people have been watching this news during the many months it took for rescue mission to be set up, sent, and reach mars. During this time they had mostly given up on any of the martians surviving, until word comes of their partial survival and of the slaughter that happened.

My question, how will society respond to this news? All the collaborators who arranged the killing are already dead, though the second in command, who was chosen to be saved, was in a position where he likely could have inferred something was going on, knowing the governor clearly had a horrible plan he wasn't talking about and didn't expect to live after it etc.

First, will the world lash out at the second in command who was saved, and did lead the colony quite successfully in crises until rescue arrived by trying to punish him?

Secondly, what will the cultural and political ramifications of one of the worlds first huge multinational attempts to reach out to space failing like this have? How will the survivors be treated, particularly those unknowingly chosen by the governor to survive without being part of the deadly lottery? Will hostilities be sparked over it, or will they world unite around those that survived what they had long ago decided must be an unsurvivable situation?

Will the mars colony experiment survive, or will they give up trying to repair the rest of the colony and instead evacuate the rest of the survivors home over subsequent missions? Keep in mind ships sent to mars, for evacuation or with supplies to do a more perminate repair to the dome, are extremely expensive.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Scientist: "Give us some more money and we'll do a better job." Politician: "Hm... Sure." Scientist: "Can we use compartments this time, instead of a dome?" Politician: "Hey! I know! Make the dome bigger. That should help against the weather." Scientist: "You're still not going to listen to me, are you?" $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Oct 13, 2015 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of this historical event: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Andes_flight_disaster $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Martian weather doesn't really exist, not in any way that could count as a disaster. It's also pretty inert in terms of volcanic activity etc. About your only risk factor is either a landing space ship that crashes or an asteroid impact. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Oct 13, 2015 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ If you are cripplingly short of food, then POISONING lots of it seems like a stunningly bad idea. Also how on Earth (Mars?) do you 'semi-randomly' poison the food of 60% of your population, yet still keep the vital people alive? "No Chief Engineer, don't eat the canteen macaroni cheese!" "Why, Governor?" "Er, no reason..." $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Jun 22, 2016 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ Also, if it takes a (realistically) long time for the Earth ship to be prepped and sent and arrive, why haven't the Mars guys fixed their comms in the interim? Plus if the ship isn't carrying enough food, it obviously had no plans to evacuate large numbers of people. $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Jun 22, 2016 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


Society’s initial reaction to the second in command is likely to be positive rather than negative. He inherited a nightmare life-or-death situation from his predecessor and, presumably through his actions, kept most of the remaining survivors alive until reinforcement and rescue. There will undoubtedly be a massive investigation that examines his possible complicity in the events, but that investigation is likely to target all remaining survivors. There will probably be pockets of conspiracy theorists who believe the entire event was orchestrated by the second in command, but without concrete evidence this view should be in the minority.

The broader ramifications of this event depend on some of the details, particularly the nationality of the major players such as the governor and the second in command. There are certain to be disagreements among involved governments about the morality of the governor’s actions and associated responsibility. This definitely has the potential to trigger inter-governmental strife internationally. Wars won’t be fought over this, but relations may be strained and future colonies might simply be pursued by individual nations.

Survivors will probably receive some public adoration for their involvement in the project and substantial support after the tragedy. The more significant impact would be relationships between survivors. Knowing that you were chosen (or selected) instead of friends or loved ones would be very troubling. Hostility between survivors could be common and emotional trauma would be widespread. This would be a hellish experience that would almost certainly result in varying levels of PTSD for the majority of survivors.

If this actually happened, it would be disastrous for an international colonization effort. However, that is mostly because this event should never have happened in the first place. The sequence of events described here demonstrates considerably poor planning in mission design and a massive failure to provide adequate redundancies. One thousand people on Mars would require an enormous amount of infrastructure. For something as predictably dangerous as Martian weather to knock out the most critical functionality of the colony, with no ability to mitigate the damage, requires ineptitude by colony and mission designers. If an international coalition decided to launch this mission in the first place, independent investigations by participating countries would certainly ensure that such a colony never happened again.


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