Considering the fact that Curiosity has already landed and collected enough samples, the next step would be for us to totally consume the resources on mars. This reminds me of the scene in “The Matrix” where humans are compared to a virus that consumes the host and leaves it to die. The most compelling reason for someone to head over to mars is that there must be something that can to be brought back. We are genetically wired to conquer but I wonder if this will involve improving our current state of evolution or lead it its ultimate downfall.
Leaving aside the moral question, which ideally should never be left aside. The natural progression is our current hunger for rare earths will be the key driver. I am not going to elude to the parties who might actually start this race but anyhow this is inevitable.
With this thought in mind I sketch out simple solution that would most likely be achieved in less than a decade. I would be surprised if we actually managed to pull this off in 5 years or less.
Harnessing our moon or Phobos or Deimos might be an interesting approach due possible easier landing. The lower gravity definitely helps. And also would be able to provide possible refueling stations. Now remember that rocket fuel will evolve to harness fuel from these moons or run off rechargable fuel cell which will be available at these stations (think Tesla Battery Swap of today but on a inter planetary scale).
The fact that the material or ore containers can almost be just dropped onto earth will develop “DZones” or drop zones for ore or processed minerals.
Another questions that came to my mind was why not use our Moon to mine rare earths. its closer and also easier to go and come back. Couple of interesting things that I can think of is the lack of an atmosphere which would probably make people less interested in settling and would consider it close to a “Man at Sea” kind of life style. Mars on the other hand would mean a much more closer to home feel. On a lighter side Mars is like America and the land of opportunity while moon is like getting another close colony which isn’t that interesting to most folks.
I wonder if I would in my lifetime, ever get to see the signing of a celestial declaration of independence.
Happy 4th of July folks.