Well, it would be another great leap for humans to finally start their first colony on another planet. But considering our history and how colonies tend to get independent why would an organisation of any kind ever risk and put money into creating this colony when it could totally get out of hand?

Let's assume:

  • A colony on mars is created which is stable enough for normal life and human reproduction
  • This colony is able to grow and produce food and get enough water (from polar ice caps probably)
  • There are nearly intact resources on Mars (Mines, Land, ...)
  • Other nations on Earth are not able to easily travel to Mars for an attack or conquering other parts of Mars
  • People on Mars are scientists and they have been living on Mars for enough time to have kids born on Mars even

Therefore could we conclude that:

  1. There is no specific reason for this colony not to cut ties with Earth and therefore it's a high risk to finance this colony
  2. We will wait then until it's low cost to travel to Mars and that planet will experience multi nation governments and probably wars over the planet's resources


As mentioned this question is quite similar to mine, but I'm looking for reason to make this project for a company economically justifiable and counter measures that this company will take in order to always keep Mars in control and submissive.

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    $\begingroup$ Consider also the opposite question: What would be needed before a human colony on Mars could viably declare itself independent of Earth? What are the needs the people living on Mars must, at a minimum, be able to meet in order to maintain an independent colony long-term? $\endgroup$ – user Jun 16 '16 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ There's a good trilogy (The Mars Trilogy?) about this written by Kim Stanley Robinson. $\endgroup$ – Chris Jun 16 '16 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ If I were trying to make money from a Mars colony, I would build independence into the plan/charter/contract(s). For example, say the first five (or ten or twenty) years the colony would be strictly commercial entity (like a deep-sea oil rig) that is owned by the company, but at some point, (e.g., after people have had children who have never lived off Mars), all of the commercial assets would be transferred to a provisional governing body of the (now) colony with a built-in exclusive "trade" agreement with the coporation. Later, the trade restrictions could be relaxed. $\endgroup$ – Todd Wilcox Jun 16 '16 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ Once the colony owns itself (which could be true from the very beginning - colonists could have shares in the colony), there would be more motivation for work. The corporation that financed and built the colony in the first place would have been the only "trade" option for long enough that even when the colony goes independent, there will be inertia and relationships built up that would make it hard for any competing corporations to undercut the original owner's profits from the colony. And independence cuts administration and security costs that the colony would now bear. $\endgroup$ – Todd Wilcox Jun 16 '16 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ This question is not a duplicate of the linked question, although they could be considered somewhat related. $\endgroup$ – jmoreno Jun 17 '16 at 23:13

10 Answers 10


Remember that whatever the colony is producing needs to be really really valuable. If there were refined gold bars and diamonds lying around on the surface of mars it would not currently be economic to land a rocket, shovel them into a cargo bay and fly home.

To maintain control all the parent organization needs is something that the colony cannot supply that it needs to survive. Do they need computers to run their survival equipment? well unfortunately chip fabs are huge and expensive. It's not easy to make a few hundred decent computer chips for a colony but enough to supply repairs for years can weigh only a few pounds. Ditto pharmaceuticals.

A colony would have to be huge before it could ever hope to be self sufficient. Until then it's in the power of those who can ship it supplies.

Also, in the shoes of that corporation/owner I'd make sure that every computer chip that reaches mars has a semi secret hardware backdoor to allow me to take control of it remotely if I want to. The colonists try to rebel and suddenly half the lights turns off, a little while later once they understand the score they come back on.

A small amount of military hardware could also be used to maintain control since even a fairly trivial number of drones on the level of predator drones or even simpler things that can punch a few holes in the colony walls would be an existential threat. Actual human soldiers could be subverted or decide to take control and rebel themselves and need lots of food and water.

  • $\begingroup$ good point, though a I meant to eliminate the need for food and water there are other necessary needs too. But I guess for a colony to get stable we need to think of such stuff too like getting some doctors there who can produce medicine and maybe some 3D-Printers for necessary stuff. $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 16 '16 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ And they are scientists over there, I guess they can somehow solve such problems anyway $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 16 '16 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ for the resources we just assumed Mars has valuable mines, like after a hundred years Earth runs out of gold and we really need that for computers which is only available in Mars probably $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 16 '16 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Mines and raw materials are not enough. Modern computer chips are affordable only because there is a huge market for them. There are millions of people directly or indirectly involved in the production of any modern technological gadget. It wouldn't work without the economics of scale. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 16 '16 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @azerafati It's a risk-reward calculation. They would give just enough to balance the risk of colony extinction with colony independence - in both cases, they would tend to lose their whole investment, after all :) There's other costs they need to consider (e.g. reputation), but those would most likely prevent them from making a colony in the first place, so there's that. There's little point in making colonies when you can just make a workplace as any other and pay your workers market rates. Colonies are tricky and expensive, and seen a bit evil these days :) $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jun 16 '16 at 16:32

There could be several reasons.

Maybe the Martians can produce their own food and water, but what about all the other parts it takes to run the colony? Which high-tech devices are the Martians willing to live without in the name of independence?

What about entertainment, or luxury goods? Are the common folk willing to do without all those products? What about the rich and powerful who have the means to influence public opinion, affect policy, etc.

On a more personal level, what about their families back home? How many of these people might be on Mars on a work contract, eagerly awaiting their return to Earth and their loved ones? Would they support a revolution? Unlikely.

Furthermore, as you've mentioned, there probably exist several factions on Mars, such as the American Colony, the Russian Colony, the UN Colony, etc. Do you think they could all agree to work together? Would they trust one another?

And finally, how valuable are the resoures and products of Mars to Earth? How far would the governments of Earth be willing to go to take back the colonies? Would the Martians really stand a chance against the combined military might of Earth? Maybe they wouldn't be able to counterattack right away, but what about a decade later? What could the Martians do about a giant Earth armada?

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    $\begingroup$ nice questions but no answer, maybe I could add some of them to the Q $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 16 '16 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ do you suggest that the company could kinda use their families to force them stay loyal? $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 16 '16 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @azerafati - well, you left a lot of holes in your question. What I was getting at is that a revolution would need to overcome a lot of obstacles, and is highly unlikely in my opinion. The number of safety features that could be enacted to keep them submissive is almost endless, and completely opinion based. Unless you descrobe the political/economic/security situation in great detail we can't possibly answer that. Frankly, I almost voted to close your question, but instead chose to answer and point out some of the many factors affecting popular support/feasability of a revolution instead. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 16 '16 at 15:44

There is a number of reasons for why a Mars colony would not declare independence easily:


  • Food and water are just the beginning if you want to survive on Mars, you'll also need a lot of technological components (chips, drugs, ...) that are very hard to produce until you have a population of millions (or billions). There won't be enough people for a long time, and the technology needs to be be built up from nothing.
  • Even if survival was assured, there are luxury goods that won't be reproduced any time soon. Enjoy living on fungus derivatives!


  • Unless massively mistreated, there will certainly be a powerful Earth-friendly block and probably all the key personnel will be pro-Earth, at least initially. This will of course make up a big part of the conflict but will be another reason why independence won't be easy.
  • Unless massively mistreated, why should Martians care? They can be practically independent anyway since it takes time for Earth to find out anything. They can make their own decisions and expect Earth to rubber-stamp them after the fact.


  • Although very far away from Earth, the colonies will be highly vulnerable to attack for a long time. Their buildings may be underground but not deep enough. If they truly piss off Earth it could cause them severe damage or wipe them out entirely.
  • If a real war breaks out, there may not be any qualms about using the nastier weapons known to man. Got to use up those nukes somewhere!
  • $\begingroup$ The fun part about the nuclear theory is that, if the colony still rebelled and we launched the entire global nuclear arsenal at it, depending on where the colony was located (if it were on the south pole) it could theoretically vaporize a large amount of dry ice and cause a runaway greenhouse effect that would make the planet considerably more habitable than it currently is. At least according to Elon Musk. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Jan 2 '17 at 2:14

Why is it that every city and town on Earth today does not declare independance and become a separate nation? I live in the U.S., probably the most successful revolutionaries in history. And yet since the revolution we have built up 50 states that stick together. Why doesn't Hawaii or Alaska or Texas rebel and form an independent nations? There are lots of reasons.

The first and biggest reason: Declaring independance is not a free and easy thing. Assuming the central government objects and sends troops to keep control of the colony, property will be destroyed and people will die. If you lose, at a minimum the leaders will be executed or imprisoned. Depending on the brutality of the war there might be mass executions. The government might impose repressive measures to prevent a new revolution. Even if you win, a lot of people will likely die along the way. Going to war is not something that rational people do on a whim or for trivial reasons. You have to have serious grieviances.

Second: cultural ties. If the people in the colony all have relatives back in the home country, and they share similar political, religious, and philosophical beliefs, and they all get along more or less, what would be the motive to declare independence? Why would they even want to?

Third: as others have mentioned, economics. We could speculate about what technology is developed, but it could be centuries before a Mars colony would truly be economically self-sufficient. We tend to think of the "colonial period" in the New World as a brief time, but in fact it was 284 years from the arrival of Columbus to the Declaration of Independence. It was a longer time from the first colony to the first colony becoming independent than it is from the first colony becoming independent to today ... and Canada and South America were still colonies long after the U.S. was independent.


Cui Bono?

Why was Mars colonized in the first place, & by whom? The answer to this has significant repercussions on its trajectory.

The other answers so far seem to be working from the assumption that the colony was established by a Terran government, so I won't dig too deep there.

But what if it's a corporate colony? The parent company would want to establish an independent government immediately in order to put activities on Mars out of the reach of Terran taxes, laws, & regulations.

An even more extreme example would be that the colony is established not for the benefit of any entity on Earth, but by the colonists for their own benefit (via interplanetary Conestoga wagons). They're setting off with the express purpose of cutting ties with those they left behind, and would brook no interference from Earth.

  • $\begingroup$ The main issue here is if there is an inexpensive way to colonize Mars (Conestoga Wagons), then there is an inexpensive way for Earth's bureaucrats and Police forces (or Military forces) to get there as well.... $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jun 16 '16 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ The CWs could be one-way vehicles, optimized for bootstrapping a (barely) sustainable settlement upon landing; there may be neither surplus production for export nor lifting capacity for return trips, which would make Mars unattractive to meddlers. Any cops or soldiers sent to Mars are effectively lost to their governments, and there would be no benefit (either of economic gain or threat abatement) to said governments. $\endgroup$ – Ghillie Dhu Jun 16 '16 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ Addendum: it'd be similar to current-day Seasteading; there's nothing to stop the world's governments from invading, but it's not generally worth bothering. $\endgroup$ – Ghillie Dhu Jun 16 '16 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ my point was that the colony might not stay loyal to the parent company and its headquarters on earth. unless the whole company also displaces itself on to Mars. good point though, I didn't consider a company would actually try to gain independence itself $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 16 '16 at 19:18

Judging from the situation of the United States, I'd safely state that holding Mars too tight (if possible at all, but that's rather tech-related, thus irrelevant here) would cause an independence war. Fair treatment is a key, but also depends a lot on local power - which is also depending on more factors, like tech level, weaponization, how organized and united they are, and so on. African kingdoms were easily defeated in the colonization ages.

I'd consider enormous distance as a factor as well; with communication and personal meetings rare enough, Martian (or any colony's own) culture would quickly take a much different turn, and history taught us that different cultures might be (but not neccesarily are) problematic, causing conflicts. Hell, just try to imagine global Martian corporations!

Specific reasons might also be created to stay together. Everything's true - and so are their opposites. Might be politics, economy, or other interests too. It might even be forced, or otherwise out of necessity, constraints and need. I'm saying it because even if water, oxygen and food are solved (which are, well, yes, vital), other products might be traded between Earth and Mars.

These are the spare thoughts I could add out of the water.

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    $\begingroup$ We meet again :P $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jun 16 '16 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM well, yes, The Workplace has proven to be a great source since the time I started becoming a bit more serious. Worldbuilding is for the...less serious side :P $\endgroup$ – Katamori Jun 16 '16 at 14:00

Cyber Attack

The martians have limited options for any sort of attack. If they can hack really well and can tamper with an important digital system then they could get earth to agree a favorable truce. (There is malware in all your power stations, send these supplies or they all turn off.) This only works if sending the supplies is preferable to fixing the problem. Those on earth probably wipe or replace the hacked computers. Only works until someone unplugs the radio dish on earth.


If they have a return rocket they could crash land it on earth. This is pretty stupid as it means they're stuck on mars. Better to return to earth. Hard to aim well, earth is protected by its atmosphere. Earth has time to hack it, shoot it off course with their own rockets or jam its signal.


Probably the most effective would be to whip up a crowd of people on earth who are furious at the governments stance on the issue. May include family and friends who feel they have been abandoned on mars. Could happen without the martians help. Will not be stopped by turning off communication. Works best if you have not used other techniques.

Earths Attack

The martians probably still rely on small, hard to manufacture devices from earth, like spacesuit parts, or computer chips. The martian colony is unlikely to be producing anything other than scientific data that earth can't make its self. If earth stops sending supplies then the martians can probably do nothing, waiting until something breaks and they die. All earth has to do is stop sending supplies.

Crash landing rockets and cyber attacks will work as well for earth, and they can muster more rockets, mars has less atmosphere and less opportunity for evacuation or defense.


David Drake covers this sometimes in his novels. I want to say it was somewhere in "Hammer's Slammers" where it came up in some detail:

Basically the owning company just needs to control trade.

It's hard to cut off trade on good old planet earth because there are too many parties and travel is relatively easy and hard to control. We rebel against England, and France happily buys our stuff. Or the rebels buy and sell on a black market. It's also hard to cut off low tech trade because you can probably make most things yourself, locally, anyway. I think "trade" is one of those things that's easy to underestimate, though, especially as tech levels go up. A colony with no trade may be self-sufficient in the sense that they aren't going to immediately die but it's a very vulnerable (and dull) state to be in.

No trade means no help in a disaster. One bad year of crops and everyone dies. It means anything you can't produce locally just can't be had for love of money -- this could be high tech gear (you need computer chips but a "computer chip factory" is not something you can just locally produce with blacksmiths) or it could be things that simply are not available locally (e.g., maybe the colony has tons of iron but no form of coal and it's hard to grow enough trees to act as carbon/fuel).

So, at least in Drake novels, the way colonies are kept subservient is by simply not supplying them with the things they need to "tech up" or expand their product lines. Let them produce all the raw materials they want but never sell them or help them build the things they need to turn those raw materials into a finished product.

Keep control of the spaceport and ideally just don't allow anyone else to trade with the colony that doesn't go through your company. e.g., Amazon decides to make a Mars colony but Amazon controls the space port therefore nothing goes in or out without them knowing about it. If they don't want the colony to make computer chips (or laser drills or insert-high-tech-gizmo-here) then they're not going to be able to because they will never have the technology or parts for it.

There's also something of a sense of cooperation between the major companies that can afford colonies: we don't help your rebels if you don't help our rebels. So the rebels rise up and take the space port but they can't actually get anyone to trade with them. Small timers don't have space ships and the few organizations big enough to have space ships have shaken hands with each other. Eventually the rebels back down and let the owners back in because they liked it better when there was trade.

So, in summary, control trade and you control the colony. (At least in "near future tech" terms. If you reach a level of tech where people are flying around in personal star ships, ala Firefly/Star Wars, then it's more like "old earth" where travel is too easy, smuggling is rampant and it would be very hard to control a colony without direct military threats.)

  • $\begingroup$ good answer, yeah. I wonder how people of earth would react seeing embargoes killing their heroes on Mars. I guess politicians would get under pressure $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 16 '16 at 19:12

So, I would suggest that it doesn't matter. If you want a way to keep the project feasible, have it (the feasibility) depend on things that are not in it's self dependent on the "independence" of the colony. (That's a lot of depends.)

For example, a company may fund a mars colony, if mars dirt is super valuable. It doesn't matter if they declare independence so long as they keep sending their mars dirt. In fact as a company, you may want to plan for that independence.

You will be hard pressed to keep martians from declaring independence. There not like us. They will have different needs and concerns. There also so far away. So instead keep the project feasible but not relying on their status. I mean who else are they going to send mars dirt too, other martians?

  • $\begingroup$ maybe they decide to charge the company for more than what the company had in mind. Consider where else the company or Earth is going to get that valuable dirt from? $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 17 '16 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ That's fine, where else are they gonna sell their mars dirt? Even if it's less profit, profit is profit. $\endgroup$ – coteyr Jun 17 '16 at 14:11

If it is a company setting up this colony, then it doesn't work like any modern company I can think of. First off, real world companies have employees not citizens. If a government sets up a colony and its citizens start having kids, then those kids are also citizens and their welfare (healthcare, education, etc) is the responsibility of the government.

If a company's employees start having kids, then apart from employment laws about maternity pay and the like, the kids are nothing to do with the company. And when they grow up, they don't have to work for your company.

So either:

  1. Your company is going to have to be set up like an old style 'company town' where, as well as doing whatever business/industry it is in (e.g. mining) the company also does all the infrastructure like sewage, hospitals, schools, supermarkets, etc.
  2. There are other companies involved in the venture. Company A runs the agriculture, Company B runs the mines, Company C provides the hospitals.

Either way, those colonists are citizens of somewhere else. Possibly citizens of several somewhere elses! They will still have Australian or Icelandic or Kenyan nationality.

If they are rebelling against the company, it is a labour dispute, not a secession. If the company starts shooting at folks or switching off the oxygen, the Australian or Icelandic or Kenyan government may take a dim view of their actions. "Hey, those are our citizens you are shooting at!"

The traditional way that 'evil' company towns keep their employees in line is to overcharge for everything. Tools, safety equipment, food, clothes - all of which can only be purchased in the company shop. Everyone is in debt and stays that way. The debts get passed on to the next generation. That gets dialled up to 11 on Mars, where even the air is company controlled.

This would only work if the Australian/Icelandic/Kenyan government is in collusion with the company or is turning a blind eye.

  • $\begingroup$ really nice answer, but that "overcharge" would actually help starting the rebellion, don't you think so? $\endgroup$ – azerafati Jun 17 '16 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Yup it would. But it would likely start as "We'd like to form a trade union" and workers having fights with company strike breakers than go straight to "Freedom for Mars!" $\endgroup$ – DrBob Jun 17 '16 at 14:28

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