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I am working a hard science fiction story and I cannot come up with a really good reason to put people on Mars. I need people on Mars for the story to work, but there is no reason for them to be there. Drones can do anything people can (often better than people can). Why should they be there in the first place?

One possible solution I've come up with is maintenance. It's more economically viable to hire technicians to maintain the robotics than build robots to repair the robots.

Edit: I'm looking for city-size populations. These are not explorers (although in an early draft they are prospectors, kinda mining explorers). They could be a support city larger solar exploration.

So I'm going to be an asshole here and poke holes in a few responses on why it won't work in my world. Although some might work well enough to justify changing the world in a way that makes them work (adding social or economic pressures that justify it)

Food exports are really just carbon exports. Any self sustaining colony should have its own "farm" (algae panels like solar panels). They will however need carbon to match their population growth. Earth will never need to import carbon (at least not for a very long time), but a Martian farm could supply extra solar colonies that lack carbon. Lunar colonies would need to import 100% of their carbon; maybe breaking mars orbit an a transfer orbit is cheaper than taking Earth carbon?

A lot of responses don't put humans on the planet. No reason to leave orbit if all you're doing is refueling. And even a refueling station could be pretty automated.

Population pressure represents a new set of problems. Now you have to cheaply move living people. That creates a whole new set of problems. Refugees built a Mayflower to escape WW3? Getting pretty fantastical with that one...

I'm trying to do this with very hard science based fiction, but maybe I have to just assume some speculative technologies work (em-drive, for example) and redesign the economic structure with that in mind. Or create a Unobtainable that puts people on Mars.

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    $\begingroup$ "Drones can do anything people can (often better than people can)" - are you assuming that this is true, or is it something that your story need? At the moment and for a long long time to come machines will need the human intelligence to work. $\endgroup$ – Noldor130884 Aug 24 '16 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ There are lots of great answers here. One might be an initial reason, one is a catalyst of development, and another might be the sustainable reason. $\endgroup$ – MikeP Aug 24 '16 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Current drones are little more than (incredibly complex) remote control cars with fail-safes. It was a big deal when Curiosity was programmed to autonomously select targets for scientific study. To fully control day to day activities without a large team of dedicated humans making decisions with hours of delay, robots would need significant advancements in AI. $\endgroup$ – Kys Aug 24 '16 at 17:23

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I worked on a science fiction story centered on Mars for a while, and I intend to pull it off the back burner at some point. My primary driving economic factor for Mars turned out to be pretty simple: As humans began to expand into space, mars became the logical breadbasket for the solar system.

Mars has a carbon dioxide atmosphere (mostly) which is not at all hard to use to grow plants. It has soil that can be fairly easily adapted, and it even has areas of the surface in low points like the Valles Marineris that have significant air pressure and temperatures approaching those of Earth during some parts of the year. In such a region, it would be pretty cheap to create a large, soft "greenhouse" type structure.

So, you can grow stuff on a massive scale on mars, so what? Why not use hydroponics on your local dome structure? Mostly space issues. Hydroponics would be used on small colonies and ships, but would certainly be specialized to favor things that can be grown in very small spaces with maximum nutritional density for a given cubic meter of growing space. Such stuff probably won't taste wonderful to people even if it will keep them alive.

Mars could grow real apples, pears, nuts, whatever (Martian wine anyone?). It can also launch stuff into orbit much more cheaply than Earth can, due to the less extreme gravity well. The result: Mars is the natural place to set up a large scale agricultural operation to support anything else mankind happens to be doing in space.

[I just want to clarify: I'm talking about exporting food from Mars to other space colonies, NOT Earth!]

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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer a lot $\endgroup$ – Chris J Aug 23 '16 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ I love that Martian red! $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Aug 23 '16 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ And you can cook the steaks with the entry into Earth's atmosphera! Well, actually you cannot. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Aug 23 '16 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ No, my assumption is that humans are out in space doing a number of things (including pulling gold, nickel and other things out of moons and asteroids). I do not buy this idea that space exploration will be 100% robotic at all. You need decisionmaking to occur MUCh closer to the actual place where things are happening without a hour to 5 hour radio lag for some stupid drone to ask obvious questions back to HQ. Plus there is human nature: a hunk of very valuable substance X has been located in orbit Y. You better have someone nearby or there will be claim jumpers. Mars supplies space not earth. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Aug 23 '16 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ It does NOT make sense to grow food on Mars and send it back to Earth. I don't think you would have to necessarily dehydrate it to export it from Mars either, since launches would be pretty darn cheap for a civilization that had actually built something there. Maybe freeze dry food for shipment... Anyway, my version of this started with the industrial agriculture effort on Mars using water from the Martian ice caps and then starting to import water (ice) from elsewhere as that resource declined. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Aug 23 '16 at 19:36
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I'll throw out the orbit option.

Earth and Mars are planets on the move as they rotate around the sun. There are several times where they are reasonably close together, but moreover there is much time where they are on opposite sides of the sun from one another.

Lets say we are working on a massive project on Jupiter that spans a 20 year timeline. For a small portion of this time, Earth is closer to Jupiter and it's much more effective to launch resources from Earth. However things change during a year and Jupiter is nearly inaccessible from Earth during some parts (on the other side of the sun). However during this time period where Jupiter and Earth are cutoff, Mars now becomes the closest planet to Jupiter and the project can continue using mars as a base of operations instead.

Having two bases of operation (Earth and Mars) allows you to pick and choose which planet is closer to the outer rings, greatly increasing the accessibility to them.

Edit:

Mars in many rights becomes an alternative control center / operations center...it would coordinate people, resources, finished products, food, maintenance, etc. Having people on the planet to control this would become a necessity. It would also become a stopping point for workers who are further off in the solar system when Earth is less accessible...space is huge afterall.

It would also benefit in scouting...having two points (earth and mars) gives us a larger 3-d view of the universe in the same way having 2 eyes gives us 3 dimensional perception that 1 eye just can't.

Jupiter - a couple reasons here. Using our current knowledge of physics, the only real way to get to speeds that could exit our solar system is using gravitational 'sling shots'...basically using the orbit of Jupiter (or other large body) to increase the speed of our ship. Jupiter in this manner becomes the exit point to our solar system and as such is a tremendous resource. Mining asteroids and planetary rings could be much more lucrative compared to on planet mining as your resources are now in space and you don't have to worry about pesky gravity.

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    $\begingroup$ I really like this answer. It requires very few additional details about the world, and works. The (currently) top voted answer requires that large scale solar system activity exist. $\endgroup$ – Kyeotic Aug 23 '16 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the distance between two planets doesn't decrease the energy/time required to get between them. To get into a transfer orbit (eg en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hohmann_transfer_orbit) the planets must be at the right phase angle, so having multiple origins for resources can reduce logistical latency, so this is still definitely a reasonable justification for a Mars colony. $\endgroup$ – alessandro Aug 24 '16 at 6:12
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It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, it's too expensive to leave.

Long ago (last year or generations ago), one or more wealthy entities (individuals, companies, governments, universities, cults, etc) believed it was worth the investment to move a few (tens/thousands/millions of) colonists to Mars. Then the situation changed. The backers, the colonists, or their descendants had second thoughts. Mars sucks. However, they're trapped by the same economics that made it hard to get there in the first place. The backers aren't going to pay for a return trip, and the colonists lack the wealth/industry/resources needed to make interplanetary trips themselves. So, the Mars colony continues to exist (and even expand) because there's nowhere else for the Martians to go. If your timeline allows it, you could have millions of Martians descended from a tiny group of initial colonists.

So, now we only need a plausible reason to get a few people to Mars:

  • Prospecting. Unobtanium was (temporarily) so valuable, someone thought it might actually be worth sending colonists to retrieve it from Mars. Drone technology hadn't advanced far enough for reliable remote mining yet. Oops, the Mars Unobtanium mine ran dry. Or there was never Unobtanium there. Or they found a source on Earth. Or the Unobtanium price bubble burst. Or drone technology advanced far enough to make the colonists unnecessary. (You can use real-world materials for Unobtanium. There are precedents for previously cheap materials becoming valuable as science progresses or tastes change and vice versa. Petroleum for internal combustion engines. Platinum for catalytic converters. Chemical processes making ammonia and aluminum plentiful. Tulips.)
  • Speculation. You had to go in person to stake claims to land, mineral rights, titles of nobility. Some colonists thought they could get in early and flip the claims for a huge profit later. Oops, demand never materialized, and their claims became worthless.
  • Pioneer/can-do/thrill-seeker spirit. There will be a few people with the combination of wealth and drive to travel to Mars just because they can. They might even bring family, friends, a retinue, servants, etc.
  • Scientific curiosity. Governments and academia pay for people to run experiments at the South Pole and in orbit today, with no expectation of economic return on the investment. It's just to advance our knowledge of science. Someone pulled together enough grants to get some colonist-scientists to Mars.
  • Marooned. The colonists were on their way to another economically viable activity (maybe asteroid mining), but had to make an emergency landing on Mars.
  • Exile. The costs of imprisoning people on Earth grow so high that exile to Mars became competitive. [already mentioned in several other answers at the time of posing]
  • Prestige. Our rival was talking about sending colonists, so we had to send some first to show we're better.
  • Guilt. A group was mistreated in the past. Someone felt responsible enough to pay to establish a homeland for that group on Mars.
  • Legal loophole. Something extremely lucrative was technically not illegal if done by/for/to someone standing on Mars. So lucrative that it was actually worth shipping someone there to do it. Tax evasion. "Enhanced interrogation". Divorces for the mega-wealthy. Defaulting or discharging debts.
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  • $\begingroup$ Like the last one - it's sort of a 'mega offshoring' - you could be the IT hub of everything illegal (from dirty money to botnets) $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Aug 25 '16 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ Another fun legal exploit: Wealthy backer sends colonists to Mars, where they claim land and declare an independent state. The colonists name the backer as ambassador or even monarch of their state. This confers the backer all sorts of legal privileges on Earth (diplomatic immunity, plus he's a foreign head of state). It's a paper shield, but in some circumstances, those are enough. You could sell ambassadorships to other parties besides the backers. The backer could even establish embassies, and now they have nominally sovereign territory on Earth. $\endgroup$ – George Compton Aug 25 '16 at 16:14
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  • People want to live and work under gravity. Zero G is bad for your health, the food won't stay on the dinner plate, etc.
  • Even if the air outside is not breathable, a little bit of atmosphere helps to keep out micrometeorites.
  • The living space should not be too close to a gas giant like Jupiter or Saturn. Too much radiation.
  • High gravity makes space launches expensive. Each extra kps of delta-V cuts deeply into the payload percentages.

So if you look at other possible places for your main base, like Earth, Luna, Venus, Titan, or Ceres, Mars looks good. Not too small, not too big, not too hot, not too cold.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, I would say Mars is quite cold. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Aug 23 '16 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ Compared to Earth, yes. But compare it to Ceres in this regard ... $\endgroup$ – o.m. Aug 23 '16 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, Mars is not that cold. On the equator, temperatures can get up to 60 F or so during the summer. Location is everything. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Aug 23 '16 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. or compare it with Rupertus... $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Aug 23 '16 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 Googling on Rupertus is only turning up references relating to a WW2 general; which I assume is not what you meant. $\endgroup$ – Dan Neely Aug 23 '16 at 20:36
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Settlers fleeing oppression

All they did was ritually sacrifice every third-born son, and the earth governments said that was ILLEGAL! Whatever happened to freedom of religion?! Fortunately for our ragtag group of everyday cultists, nothing's illegal on Mars!

Mutiny aboard a Science Vessel strands the Mutineers on Mars

They mutinied, now they've got to scrape together a living on Mars! Watch as they squabble to survive on the arid barren red planet! Who's going to take out the trash? How are they going to divvy up the Space-Tobacco? And what will they ever do if the Space Marshalls come a-knocking?

Martian Penal Colony

When convicted murder Sheila was given a choice between serving the remainder of her life sentence on earth, or sterilization and shipment to Ol' Rusty Red, she knew just what to do. But when the first ever colony ship gets to Mars, Sheila finds out she's got a bun in the oven! Looks like this experiment in colonization might not be so un-permanent after all!

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historically, new landmasses were initially populated with penal colonies. perhaps the government or religion in your world has decided that another religion, tradition or hobby is wrong, and exiled all practitioners to mars. alternatively, the practitioners may have exiled themselves to avoid persecution. nothing says "leave me alone" quite like 50 million kilometers of cold dark emptiness.

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    $\begingroup$ You could even go so far as to say it was a penal colony hundreds of years ago, but has since grown into a civilisation in its own right, a little like Australia... $\endgroup$ – colmde Aug 24 '16 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ Even a penal colony needs support systems - visitor, parole, guards, cooks, housing, construction, maintenance, medical, and all of the other things. These people would then have children, needing schools. They all need to eat, sleep, drink, party, etc. Someone needs to maintain the schools and the homes and the farms. These things create a colony of not just prisoners. These people may then find mining, manufacturing, exploration, data storage (good DR to put your data on a different planet), banking, transportation, etc. The number of colonists can be much larger than the prisoners. $\endgroup$ – MikeP Aug 24 '16 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeP according to the OP "Drones can do anything people can", which includes the job of prison guard. a more entertaining theory is that "penal colony" is just a euphemism for mass oubliette. unless of course there is a reason for non-prisoners to be on mars, which obviates the need for any penal colony at all. $\endgroup$ – james turner Aug 24 '16 at 16:46
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Start with resource extraction then move into manufacturing

Modern humanity almost always moves into hostile areas in order to extract some valuable resource. So let's start with someone, somewhere (Elon Musk?) has made an economic case to investors that if they put humans (and lots of robots) on Mars that it will increase the company's earnings, profits and stock price.

Let's say it's because a rover found a really rich vein of aluminum on Mars somewhere. The market for aluminum in orbit is very high with a boom in space ship construction. Lifting material into orbit is cheaper from Mars than from Earth, so it's easier to do ore processing on Mars than on Earth. (The Earth equivalent is the thriving aluminum processing industry in Iceland. There's not much aluminum in Iceland, but there is cheap power so it's cheaper to mine the bauxite then ship it Iceland than it is to process the ore local to the mine.) Also, processing in strong-ish gravity field is easier than in zero gee (I'm hand waving here a bit). Investments are made, rockets sent and small colonies form. As the investment proves profitable, other companies will pile into the market seeking to increase their own profits.

Just like frontier towns of the Wild American West, those miners will need things or just want niceties that they miss from Earth. As time goes by and the market for aluminum holds (or increases) then the small markets of miners will turn into much larger economies.

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It's going out on a bit of a limb but:

Rare earth metals are abundant in asteroids and would be the main economic focus for the colony. Unfortunately in the formation of our solar system we got iron heavy magma and most of our precious metals in fact come from asteroids.

Mars has the following features:

  • Closest planet to the asteroid belt other than Jupiter which is far too dangerous (a moon of Jupiter could work but is also further from Earth and the energy source of the sun);
  • Mars is safer than Earth as there is more space to land asteroids without endangering humans, and the gravity is 0.107 of Earth's resulting in slower landing speeds; and
  • Still the most hospitable for human life.

Asteroid mining is currently being looked into as a possibly viable option. There are three types of asteroid to support your narrative:

  1. C-Type Asteroids which are not that good for mining but are a useful source of organics(water, methane, phosphorus etc.) that could improve the Mars colonies habitability;
  2. S-Type Asteroids which contained high levels of rare earth metals (gold, platinum, rhodium etc.); and
  3. M-Type Asteroids which like the S-Types have rare earth metals. However there is often 10 times the abundance but they are a lot rarer as well.

The Mars colony could refine the metals to make transport safer and more efficient back to earth. Resulting in less material to transport and could be packaged to be more manageable (Mars has half the escape velocity of Earth).

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure the this is the most accurate in terms of mining... $\endgroup$ – Durakken Aug 24 '16 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ @GreenFox how does this stack up? $\endgroup$ – AER Aug 24 '16 at 5:21
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Advertising

Building huge infrastructure in inhospitable environments is, straight up, not economically efficient. There is no direct economic reason to do this. The actual economics have to be indirect: that means that it doesn't need to be a good idea... it just needs to seem like a good idea to enough people.

The westward expansion in American history was largely fueled by a well advertised notion of "manifest destiny", and provides a good lens to see how this might work. First, you have to convince some segment of the population that it is in their best interest to spend time and treasure on the venture. That treasure is spent on things like wagons or space ships that will get them to their destination, on supplies and materials to build a life once they get there.

Those people who are providing the supplies are the ones for whom the effort is financially feasible - and once the colonization passes a certain threshold these are the people who are most incentivized to keep it going.

These interests will lobby the government to provide incentives to people, will make or influence advertising pimping the idea of "a new life in the off world colonies". Governments or other large institutions actually end up providing a lot of the financial outlay that private investors never would, specifically because it's all loss. (Reference the building of the port of Los Angelas, the NASA missions to space and the moon, exploration of the new world.) The government incentive is simple: cultural, economic and perhaps military control of new frontiers. Once they've made the outlay, though, the tech and infrastructure can bootstrap others following in their footsteps.

But to do all of this you need to advertise and convince people it's a good idea: whether the idea is manifest destiny, a gold rush, a new philosophy or what have you. Once they are convinced then the secondary economy is the one that drives development by selling things to the risk-takers.

Why Humans?

Robots are nice, but humans are the whole package. They can be taught, have their own built in tools (hands), can communicate new problems effectively, are adaptable and able to respond to the unforeseen, and most of all invested: they all want to live, whereas a robot isn't even self aware. All of that and they come in a relatively small package, weight wise. Therefore shipping them is fairly cost effective, even with the life support considerations. Once you have enough on Mars, they'll expand on their own - and economics will start up to support that particular biological imperative/manifest destiny.

Shifting Economics

The other main thing to note is this: the economics of the situation will shift radically over time. Initially the economics will be very, very bad. This is where advertising comes in, to convince people they want to 'throw away' resources on the effort. Then, when the parent economies are reaping economic benefit from gearing themselves to support the effort, they will be the engine that continues the drive. However, over time more and more resources will be embedded on Mars, which will create and satisfy demands on their own. Economic margin will be sought and the economy on Mars itself will start to ramp up (with, of course, the occasional shock and/or setback). This will mark ramping from a reliant-entirely-on-imports to a largely import economy. But at some point it will start to have to pay for those imports itself, and will need to export. At this juncture we have a colony with internal economics, and some external trade.

Whether the colony becomes economically successful will depend on whether this external trade is particularly profitable for them - whether the profit settles on Mars or is owned by external sources, or whether it is sufficiently profitable at all. Very likely, the first few colonies will never cross a threshold to where the economy is self sustaining. They will die, and leave behind two valuable things: resources embedded in built-infrastructure and knowledge. Both of these will decay over time, but newer colonies can capitalize on them because they will be cheap by comparison to building it all themselves or making costly mistakes.

Eventually, with enough tries and enough sunk capital a colony will cross that threshold. If nothing sufficiently profitable was found it will cross that threshold simply because the cost-to-stay has been driven so low that staying is a 'cheap bet to make'. If something profitable was found, a boom period would occur (think gold rush) driven by that industry, but not necessarily only about that industry (think Levi's and pickaxes).

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Maintenance is the most convincing reason.

Others are:

The original Mars explorers set up a colony which is still there today and has chosen not to return to Earth.

Earth is overcrowded so to reduce overcrowding some people have moved to Mars. Alternatively the rich have moved to Mars to escape overcrowding.

Mars is used as a refuelling point for ships heading further into the Solar System and people staying on Mars overnight would prefer to stay in a human run hotel so a small community has grown up to provide these hotels.

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    $\begingroup$ The "Earth is overcrowded" reason doesn't hold up when considering how relatively few people can be transported on ships (at MOST 10000 assuming a century of technological advancement). The trip woll take roughly a year, and you have to keep all the Earthlings alive for the duration of the trip. 14 billion people being moved 10,000 a year = a very long time to reduce overcrowding. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Aug 23 '16 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Rich people could chose to move to avoid the overcrowded Earth. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 23 '16 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ OR they could avoid the cost, travel time, and generally terrible environment of Mars and pay security guards to keep the peasant trash off of their property like they already do. Or they can avoid the cost and trip and just build "tropical paradise" compounds in the middle of the Sahara using drones and watering their plants and getting water via underground aqueducts. Pount is, they are rich. They have better solutions available to them than moving to a new planet. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Aug 23 '16 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DjMethaneMan Maybe the Sahara is full and governments are forcing all mansions to be converted into flats. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 23 '16 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Let's be realistic here. The governments serve the rich (because the rich pay for their election campaigns) and the Sahara could never realistically fill up before we started experiencing mass-starvation. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Aug 23 '16 at 16:14
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You said that the people there may have originally lived there as explorers or miners, right? Let's say these prospectors mated. Than why would their offspring want to ever leave the planet they were born on, with the gravity they are used to, and the home they grew up in, and the job they do?

If they are self sufficient, why would they want to spend money to pack up and move back to Earth?

If people had reason to live there originally (economic, whatever), then the fact that people did live there is enough to reason that some still would live there.

So, offspring of explorers / miners / robot technicians / scientists / religious outcasts / criminals on the lam, etc, just never left.

Edit: Reread your question. I think descendants of an early one way research trip / colony would be completely viable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Since this is how we are going to colonize it (see Mars One, Elon Musk, et al), it just makes sense to write it in. Those colonists need to do something other than just die as a warning to the rest of us, and the most likely other thing they could do is not die. Not dead people need to eat. Eating and not being dead are very good economic reasons for people on Mars to grow stuff on Mars. Since people are then there, on Mars, the economic barriers for investment from earth drop way down. There are probably also going to be massive tax write-offs for any equipment or supplies sent there. $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Aug 24 '16 at 20:12
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My best guess growing a colony would be a "gold rush" and speculative bubble. Whether what I have in mind fits your story, I do not know.

  • Start with some amount of human activity on Mars. A few scientists and, as you said, maintenance personnel.

  • This already implies some significant supply chains for the space industry. Reusable freight vessels would need propellant and the (relatively) deuterated water on Mars would be useful for e.g. fusion drives. The shallow gravity well makes it easier to launch equipment and propellant for other space missions. (Keeping in mind that Earth will still be much cheaper for most purposes, due to existing infrastructure.)

  • Life might be discovered and attract significant interest from pharmaceutical/biotech companies.

  • Martian gemstones might be fashionable with the ultra-rich.

  • Add some tourism in the mix.

Once there is industry of any significant scale, there would be a need to adapt to changing conditions. In my professional experience, industry is organised chaos. So many things are breaking simultaneously in so many places, for so many reasons, that one simply could not automate everything. Computer learning models could work around some problems, and a number of engineers could fix problems from a few light-minutes away, but boots on the ground will be needed not only to fix problems, but also to implement new developments. "Maintenance" crews will be much more than that.

With just a small amount of recently founded industry, Mars would be in vogue. You could easily lead it into a speculative bubble. Like the bubbles in .com, apps, etc., you could have a large number of Martian industry start-ups that flew in with a buzzword business plan on stupid investors' dime. Be sure to figure in real businesses providing services for the start-ups. Also cynical employees who know the company isn't going anywhere but don't care since they've always wanted to be paid astronauts. And gullible ones who drank the metaphorical Kool-Aid. Fun things are sure to happen once the bubble bursts.

You might want to compare Robert Zubrin's "How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet". It is similar in some ways but mostly takes the approach of just scam NASA. (With whom Zubrin had an axe to grind.)

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if drones can really do everything that people can, then you are in a post-scarcity world. as such, the only truly expensive things are those things you can't simply print more of. for example: real estate. in this post-scarcity world, the cost of going to mars would be trivial compared to the value of the real estate you could purchase there. perhaps the top 1% richest people of the future, live on estates spanning hundreds of square kilometers. whereas the wannabes (next richest 10%) can only afford that kind of estate for their vacation home on mars. this would be akin to the country manor of a minor renaissance lord. sure, it takes a few days to travel there, but the scenic vista's make it worth the trip.

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    $\begingroup$ And these vacation homes will staff! Robot butlers are so dreadfully common, we need to get real humans to show our class. The staff need to stay on Mars to maintain the house while we are elsewhere. And they will need food, clothing, hair cuts and everything else. And the tailors and hair dressers need food and things too. And... before you know it there is a city there! How did that happen? Hmm... perhaps we should find a house elsewhere... $\endgroup$ – Stig Hemmer Aug 24 '16 at 8:08
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This is not strictly an economic reason, but it might serve your purpose: Fear.

Set up scenario where there is an impending devastating asteroid impact with earth and people are not sure it will be averted. They migrate to mars. The asteroid is successfully averted but they don't have an economic reason to return to earth.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can see your point: The economic reason is that it is to costly to move back. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan Aug 23 '16 at 22:11
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Speculation: if everyone is betting on a society to not put any human on mars, then you create another society who's solely purpose is to bet the opposite, gain funds from that society and then also funds from everyone who betted the opposite, you could become trilionaire without even having to be directly involved in the society, however it is a best idea to send people on mars by using funds raised with the 2nd society. Basically you take money both from who bet against you and from who's not. This is just to point out how stupid is the economic system.

Ignorance: because selfies made really on mars surface are sold for much money.

Collectionism: retrieve debris of old Mars missions in a sort of treasure hunt. You need someone that stay there for long time and you will sell stuff as long as it is found. Not to mentions astronauts poop and funny rocks directly from martian surface.

Note I used speculation, but in a different way that from other answers.

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Robots are still very far from humans. Now it is huge success when they make a robot that can walk. About artificial intelligence I am not going to talk - it is that low. Robots from star wars are still far far future.

Assuming they are able to establish a colony, it is simpler to send humans, and you can find lots of lunatics to actually do it**. They can react to any situation, whereas robots are not so adjustable.

But the biggest problem is the communication delay. It takes lots of time for the communication signal to travel to mars and back to earth. When there are situations that require fast reaction, this is simple not acceptable.


** Even now, when the mars colony is far future, there are lunatics prepared to go to mars. See the mars one project page.

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Assuming that a Martian population is self-sustaining (perhaps with a CO2-cracking, carbon-based economy), then one reason might be population pressure in space stations. It's expensive to add living space and resources to a spaceship. If there are too many births, send some people to Mars. They might have a hard-scrabble existence, but at least they can survive.

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Tons of good reasons to put people on Mars. 1. Resources - yes robots can find them and harvest them but robots break down, as you've mentioned - and the resource type demand may change from time to time requiring robot reprogramming.

  1. Population pressure - the Earth is groaning from overpopulation as it is -imaging if there were a relief valve called emigration to Mars.

  2. Social pressure, imagine that there are only two types of societies on earth and each considers the other anathema. One could emigrate to Mars - wouldn't it be interesting if they had some converts along the way or once they reach Mars some of side A started believing like side B?

  3. Something to do with solar radiation, if something is happening with the sun then maybe humanity has to leave the cradle and move farther away, like the far side of Mars - some may choose to go even further.

  4. Greed - something is discovered on Mars that is of great value and a select few want to control it, or control the market for it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Much cheaper to get those resources from the asteroids. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Aug 23 '16 at 20:42
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The reason that people would go to mars is probably what AER said, however, once you get that going you also have tourists and it's just easier to expand rather than build a whole new settlement and so you're going to start getting people who are going there just to go to another planet and then you'll have people going that realize that if these people are rich enough to go to another planet for tourism then they're likely going to want some services while there and not to mention the trinkets. Once that get's rolling and you have the mining, engineering, trading, and various other deep space exploration missions happening you're going to have a thriving metropolis that builds itself.

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It cannot be for the purposes of exporting resources or manufactured goods. The cost of transport is too great because it takes allot of energy to escape orbit. But information can be exported virtually free. Mars real estate is extremely cheap compared to anywhere on the over populated earth. There is plenty of land for mining and farming and building settlements. These settlements house computer factories, giant server warehouses, software development companies, and many online outsourcing agencies for graphic design, proof reading, etc. Have an idea for an app? email them the details and they'll create it for five bucks.

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over a long enough time span, it only takes one woman and a dewar of gametes to populate a planet. if robots can really do everything, some crazy rich person (e.g. elon musk) will personally found the martian human population. with proper planning, that pioneer could ensure the entire population will be too poor to ever leave the planet.

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Here is a scenario that could work:

The wealthiest fraction of Earth's population has consumed some revolutionary, but expensive pharmaceutical. This could be a drug to make their skin nicer, their lungs healthier, a sleep aid, anything.

However, a few years after the drug is released to the market, new studies turn up an unintended side effect. It makes them very susceptible to the common cold. Enough so that they could easily die from it. As a result, the wealthiest fraction of a percent of the world's population fund the Mars colony and hires enough people to construct and set up their initial base. This is done as a type of quarantine to protect themselves.

This exodus of the world's wealth has erratic effects on the global economy. Eventually, anyone that can goes to mars so that they can be where the wealth and the jobs are. Their initial plan is to work for 15-20 years, and send money back home and then eventually return home. However, they have children while they are on Mars who have no desire to go to Earth.

After a generation or two the question is not "Why stay on the Martian city?" but rather, "Why leave?"

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  1. Get all the tax havens in the world to stop letting corporations get away with not paying any taxes.
  2. Declare Mars an independent country with zero corporate tax.
  3. Requirement for registering a subsidiary on Mars: having at least one employee there. (For now. The number of employees might raise after economies of scale made travel to Mars more affordable).
  4. When the company has no more employees on Mars for whatever reason (fired, resigned, dead...), they must liquidate their Martian subsidiary and pay taxes again.

All the big corporations will then suddenly have their own mars program, because it's still cheaper than paying taxes. In a few decades, colonies will be sprawling all over Mars.

Companies have an incentive to keep their Martians happy, because they can always resign and get hired by a different company. Hiring someone who is already there is both cheaper and faster than sending your own, so companies will always be interested in hiring unemployed Martians. I could imagine companies competing about who can send the largest, safest and most luxurious habitats to Mars to poach Martians from each other.

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protected by Community Aug 23 '16 at 21:58

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