The world as we know it crumbled down yesterday. All stock exchanges were turned off. Capitalism as we know it failed. Answers to how and why this happened are outside of this question. It just happened.

New leader emerged from the chaos. He has full trust of army and managed to, uh, "get things back to order" in few months. Again, how he managed to do this is outside of this question.

Pavel, the new leader wants to use his powers and colonize Mars. We know human settlement on Mars is feasible, but very costly.

Because Pavel now "owns" everyone who survived, he can just give you orders to work on this Mars Mission. If you listen to his orders, you have food and shelter guaranteed. If you disobey ... you will become "practice target" for the military.

However, while Mars mission is feasible using today tech, lots of things needs to be done perfectly in order to actually land manned mission on Mars surface.

Pavel himself cannot oversee every single detail of such mission, so he has to delegate to the army. And army can monitor if you do your work, but they certainly cannot monitor if you do it properly.

It is almost sure that under dictatorship of "work or die" some people will do their job sub-par

Can you actually have successful manned mission to Mars?


  • Military loves Pavel and does not want to have any other leader than Pavel
  • Military will try to fulfill every order Pavel gives them
  • There are enough people surviving initial chaos with sufficient knowledge to accomplish the task
  • Pavel is sole dictator of USA
  • Current technological level as of 2017
  • All of NASA inventory and SpaceX inventory remained untouched during the time of crisis
  • $\begingroup$ I think sub-par workers will be prevented with Pavel's announcement that all the involved people will be granted the honour of being part of the first emigration wave to Mars. $\endgroup$
    – beppe9000
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ @beppe9000 Not if life is so miserable that they want to die. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 2:49
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM That's a good point. Maybe he could offer/promise them some tangible benefits ("better rations because you are contributing to humanity") both during production and once on Mars? They could be driven by that hope. $\endgroup$
    – beppe9000
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 14:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is he trying to have a manned mission to mars or seeking to colonize mars? The timetables for these two tasks are tremendously different, so required completely different approaches. The first manned mission to mars can fail and the colonization effort still succeed. You have some room for astronauts to Tweet that "space is hard." $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 15:47

7 Answers 7


There is some evidence that an absolutist dictatorship might be better positioned to pull off a large project like a Mars mission than a typical 20th century democracy. Historically, tyrannies have been very successful with large scale, major projects, even ones at the edge of technological capability.

In ancient Egypt, the pyramids represented incredible investments of time, labor, and highly skilled engineering prowess, and they were built under the auspices of absolutist "god-emperors". similarly in ancient China, both the famous Great Wall, and the far more interesting world exploration project of the 1400s happened under absolute emperors willing to kill those who did not obey. In the case of the exploration project, a lot of comparisons can be made between an exploration fleet of the size and complexity developed at that time and a nation the size of the USA putting together a Mars mission now. We are talking about bleeding edge technology, a large crew to man the mission, unknown exploration in a dangerous environment, and ships larger than had ever been built in human history. Even the more well known Spanish and Portugese exploration efforts a few decades later were conducted under the authority of absolute monarchs who could gamble significant percentages of their nations' total budgets on very risky, high tech exploration efforts.

In more modern times, the Nazi regime not only developed: rocket powered fighter planes, jet fighters, ballistic missiles, assault rifles, and tanks with hybrid propulsion systems while their opponents were still mostly relying on biplanes, they were also on the verge of developing an atomic bomb, and would likely have done so given only a couple more years. Famously, the USSR, after a totalitarian regime took power and drove millions of people into slave camps in Siberia was able to radically upgrade it's national infrastructure and technological/industrial base. The Soviet Union, right up until the end of it's tyranny, was able to make MORE rockets than the USA, BIGGER rockets than the USA, and in some cases more sophisticated rockets too. They did fall behind in innovation over the long term, especially with the microchip revolution in America, but the USSR was always able to throw large amounts of resources at massive, high tech projects with a good deal of success.

The failure of these systems usually stems not from their ability to win a "space race", launch a huge battleship or create the world's largest gun. Generally, their failure comes as a result of the misallocation of resources to such grand projects (like your Mars mission) while common people have to stand in bread lines, wait years for an automobile, sometimes starve, and get more and more unhappy because they are assigned a job for life whether they like it or not.

There is no real contradiction between technological advancement and tyranny. Engineering may have a creative side, but engineers under extremely oppressive regimes throughout history have proven capable of developing some VERY impressive advances. Obviously, if your regime is under such pressure that it resorts to assembling V-2 missiles in underground tunnels with slave labor on loan from a concentration camp (as the Nazis were compelled to do) the quality of work will degrade to such a point that there will be more explosions and crashes than successful launches. This may explain some things about the peculiar North Korean nuclear weapon program with it's numerous, strange failures.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, I'm pretty sure that engineers would JUMP at the idea of getting to work on an awesome space rocket to Mars. If you're going to be under a tyrant's regime anyway, might as well do the cool prestigious project. $\endgroup$
    – SPavel
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @SPavel, very true. In the USSR engineers and scientists who were working on a high priority "flagship" type project got to live and work in very nice villas often in custom-built elite communities with more amenities than normal citizens. It pays to be working on the Big Important Thing that Mr. Dictator wants done. $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 0:29

History proves that no dictator, regardless of how ruthless or all seeing, can ever guarantee a scientific success on the edge of the technological and scientific frontiers.

The only way to guarantee success is simply to keep trying when failures happen.

The problem for any dictator doing this is simple : you will, if you hope to succeed, put the best people on it. If something goes wrong, at what threshold of it going wrong can you afford to get rid of the people (or your hold on them, e.g. their families) ?

After some failure, they're still your best likelihood of success, so getting rid of them is a bad idea. Punishing them (directly or indirectly) for a failure that's simply one of the consequences of pushing into the unknown is not going to change the results.

Pragmatic rulers, dictators or otherwise, do not refuse to accept any failure.

As an example : Hitler "fired" Field Marshall Von Rundstedt after failing to stop the Normandy invasion. But he wasn't long gone when he was brought back to stop the Allied advance. And Hitler was probably the least pragmatic dictator you could think of.

Space colonization is really going to be very hard. One way you would make success more likely is to first crack a lot of other "small" problems. Survival in the long trip to (and from) Mars. Developing safe ways to live on a hostile planet (and you'd start with the Moon). Developing food that can be grown or manufactured from local materials, but that problem requires detailed knowledge about the resources available locally. This takes time - decades - regardless of resources made available to do it all.

So if "Pavel" is serious, Pavel is either going to have to be patient or Pavel is going to run out of people who can do the job very quickly.

Don't underestimate the willingness of scientist and engineers to do their jobs to the best of their ability under a dictatorship. The best of them (intellectually) will normally also be the most keen to succeed in their own spheres, and they will drive projects more efficiently than any ruthless dictator could. If you'd ever worked for or with some of these people you'd know how single-minded and even ruthless they can be themselves. Scientists aren't, by any means, all humanists.


The easiest would probably allocating lots of funds towards what many space organisations are already doing, this can be accelerated by forcing companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and SpaceX to cooperate more closely.

It would be quite likely that there are still many people enthousiastic about space exploration, even if they don't detest the current regime.
Dislike of the current regime might actually motivate them more, as it is much easier to commit a coup in a community that has only a few members, like a Mars colony. And if the colony is self-sustaining, it would be well beyond the reach of Pavel's regime.

For other ways to motivate people we only need look at other dictatorships, where threatening someone's life or family seems the preferred method of motivation. To completely tie the fate of the engineers' family and their rocket together, (some of) their families will be the first passengers.

  • $\begingroup$ Forced fuse is bad. You don't want to break teams that works, don't want turning small manageable teams into big bloats of people. Don't want too much management. Force them to cooperation, right, but fusing is so wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ You're right, changed it. $\endgroup$
    – Swier
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 18:09

A military junta has happens many times in the past, including one of the most famous juntas of the recent past, Nazi Germany (Although that is contentious because it could be argued that Nazi Germany had considerable civilian leadership).

Certainly a military junta can carry out any government function including large community projects. You will note that even under dictatorships, there are people that will excel because of the love of their craft, this includes scientist, engineers and soldiers, your three ingredients for a space agency project. For example the world still uses the invention of Mikhail Kalashnikov automatic rifle model 1947.

The problem with juntas is not the terror or heavy handedness from the point of view of those in power and the craft people who are needed. The overthrow comes from the peasantry and the bourgeoisie who want more freedom


It is going to work splendidly.

Pavel has ample budget: No need for marketing or advertising any more, all capitalist economic slack can be devoted to the 5-year or 10-year plan.

Not that big a budget needed: NASA went with 99.99% surety, but Pavel has astronauts that will work below that so progress is ensured at much lower investment.

Volunteers galore: Previous political adversaries can work off their debit by graciously providing input to the one game in town that gains you real credit with the new administration!

Risk. What is most important for this truly fertile situation is to balance risk and speed. Velocity of the project after all will be as decided by Pavel and his delegates. Science and engineering will facilitate.

Avoid failure. I recommend a series of 5-year plans with solid goals in space. Having for example a space station in orbit that is planned to be self-sufficient, first for a year, then for two years, you know what you have before you punch it out of orbit towards Mars.

Ensure success. Have, say, three or four concurrent projects. While dividing the resources it will give healthy competitiveness and one fireball in the sky will be disaster for just one project with that other parts of the program silently cheering.

Think "We choose to go to the moon". Our President Pavel knows the way.


It's absolutely feasible to get a manned mission to Mars. We have several clear paths in the form of various program plans that could feasibly get us there. We could start on it today (or 30 years ago for that matter) and have quite a good chance of success.

There would be problems, many of them unanticipated, but as far as we've looked into the issue there are no unsolvable showstoppers. The problems that are likely to crop up are ones that can be solved by engineering effort - in other words, a question of time and money.

It would be harder to justify a Mars mission as not being possible than to justify it as possible. Since in your case there is no lack of will or funding, absent some completely unexpected curveball that the universe throws at us, they're going to do it. There's no guarantee that a particular mission won't fail, but if the will remains, they will try again. It may be delayed, but it most likely will happen.


Bust out 1984 and take a read. How do the citizenry know what their government is doing? How is the war going? Is there a war going? Who is it with?

Consider how North Koreans are apprised of the doings of their government. Do you think they consider the endeavors of their government successful? Citizens can judge what they see in the grocery store or how the new apartments look, but what about the nuclear program? How do the North Koreans think that is going?

Read the conspiracy theories about the moon landing. Good stuff. Not entirely implausible.

My favorite part of World War Z (the book) was the electric machines that exploded zombies with bolts of lightning - not the machines themselves but why they were built and ballyhooed. Actually almost all zombie killing was done with axes made from car frames, but the lightning cannon footage made for great PR and improved morale.

It is much easier to mock up a Mars program or a foreign war and have it go exactly as you like than it is to do it for real. Likewise the program to crush the evildoers of Oceania. Even if you do it for real, the mockup can help get past rough spots you might not want to advertise. The real costly endeavors should be reserved for things that the citizenry can actually perceive: bread, circus, thought police.


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