Look, Mars needs women.
If we want to get to the “Three breasted prostitute” scene from Total Recall, we’ll need to get started now. Considering the massive costs associated with anything government, the actual first manned landing will probably need to be done privately, or mostly privately.
10 years ago, that would have sounded like an impossible fantasy, but with companies like SpaceX that have the passion to innovate and spend SMARTER instead of BIGGER (see Scaled Composite‘s SpaceShipOne for an example), it’s possible. Hells bells, we’re getting to the point where one really dedicated billionaire could buy 3/4 of the hardware needed off-the-shelf.
Mars on the cheap
Heavy launch? Fuck it, the Soviets pioneered assembly in orbit, now there’s no need to create a whole dedicated launcher like the Ares cargo monster. Just buy a bunch of Proton boosters (dirt cheap compared to equivalent US launchers) to chuck everything up.
The Soviets^H^H^H^H^H^H^HRussians will sell you the remaining Salyut core module. It’s identical brother was the core of Mir, and another brother is the ‘Zvezda‘ module on the ISS. It’s a 40 year old design lineage that has proven itself at keeping people alive for years at a time and comes with an exercycle. You chuck this up there with one of the Protons and let it screw itself into the stack. Voi-fuckin’-la, you now have crew quarters that will, properly stocked, keep your astronuts alive for the duration of the trip, assuming they don’t accidentally space themselves. And shit, you can use it to build the damn rocket too because you can have a crew up there to catch the payloads and hook up all the wires.
For the big stuff, assemble with KURS automated docking systems (now with almost 30 years of successful use in orbit). Proton goes up, upper stage finds the growing “Mars or bust” staging location, KURS drives it into dock like freakin space LEGOs. “But Thunderscreech”, you mew, “isn’t that what caused the collision with Mir?” Fuck no, that shit happened when they turned the docking system OFF to do it manually.
Ten or twenty Protons later, you’ve got a huge fucking booster assembly in orbit built out of upper-stage assemblies that are usually used to chuck comsats into Geosynchronous orbit so fat housewives can catch all their ‘stories’. “But Thuuuuuuunderscreech”, you honk, “isn’t there a lot of waste in the form of redundant systems and mass by having all those complete booster stages up there? FUCK YEAH, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than making an untested booster that needs a whole new rocket to put it into orbit. Spend SMARTER, not BIGGER.
The Mars Lander and re-launch assembly is the wildcard. You probably drop your return-stage first under an assload of parachutes with some sort of soft-landing rocket system. Let John Carmack build it, he’d fucking love a chance to actually put his code on the planet that made him his first million. Similar issues for landing the person/peoples on the planet, but that can be solved. This is the main place to insert speculative dollars, rubles, or whatever the hell we’re spending in the future. And be “we’re” I mean whichever software billionaire takes a break from tennis to say “Fuck it, let’s do it.”
Finally, you cram a couple folks into a Soyuz and kick ‘em into orbit to dock with this structure the way they’ve been doing since the early 60s. Light the candle, and sit back and wait.
Total cost? Maybe a couple billion, maybe a little more. Shit, let’s say ten and make sure the whole thing has a kick-ass paintjob of a naked lady wrestling a dragon or something on it.
But a TRILLION?