The Frontier Program, was the largest single space program in human history until the invention of faster than light travel. First proposed as a sustained series of manned missions to Mars, the program eventually expanded to become a fifty year architecture to explore, terraform, and colonize Mars for human civilization. Planning for the program had no official beginning as a number of previous proposals were brought together to help guide the longer term development, but most agree that the official start date began in 2020, when Mariner began constructing the first Mars vehicle in Lunar orbit.
Mars Exploration Vessel
To reach Mars, Mariner contracted the best minds in the space industry to design the first ship capable of bringing a large crew to the fourth planet from the sun. At first intended to be a vehicle that would launch land, and return in multiple stages, it was later decided that the construction of a very large ship that could act as space station upon reaching the planet to conduct operations, would be more effective for exploration.
Unlike previous mission concepts, the first Mars Exploration Vessels (MEVs) were designed with the intent of launching a one way mission to the red planet and establishing a permanent facility in orbit to provide as a staging point for future landings.
The first MEV, the Robert H. Goddard formed the foundation for all future exploration missions to Mars; at 2 km in length it was the largest space vessel ever built prior to interstellar travel. Resembling an old spinning top, the propulsion system of the craft, a fusion powered VASIMR drive, extended from the crew quarters along a narrow assembly where the reactor, engine, and fuel were all contained. The crew section consisted of two large rings linked to the core of the space craft, where all landing craft and EVA systems were housed. The first ring, near the "top" of the craft housed the actual crew quarters, medical facilities, and maintenance facilities; complete with a dining hall and an full gym. The second ring, housed the ship's food source, and primary oxygen supply: the greenhouse. Like all large space craft, this hydroponics level produced enough food, air, and water for the entire crew, however it produced additional supplies that could be shipped to crews on the surface; which would prove essential to the early stages of exploration. At the apex of the craft was the ships' command deck, a comparatively small two floor facility that housed all flight control systems, and would later be used as the command center to conduct operations throughout the Mars system.
The core of the ship housed ten 3000 cubic meter volume Ares lading craft, that were the primary vehicle for reaching and leaving the Martian surface. Built like an overweight space shuttle, the Ares craft were intended to glide in much like craft on Earth, and return after processing methane fuel from the Martian atmosphere. The craft could carry as man as one hundred people to the surface, however, that number was usually reduced for transporting payloads.
The first mission to the surface, Mars 1 launched from the Goddard mother-ship two weeks after the crew reached Martian orbit. Captained by one Theo Bell, the craft landed at Chryse Planitia, just a few kilometers short of the Viking I lander. Theo Bell was the first man on the surface of Mars, exiting his craft at what was 11:23 pm EST on April 19th, 2020 saying, "This is for all that came before, and all that is yet to arrive." His words upon reaching the surface have become as as iconic as Armstrong's "One Giant Leap."
Along with the ceremonial act of landing the first crew on the surface, Mars 1 also conducted extensive operations to establish the first semi-permanent base on the surface. A basic inflatable habitat was established for the 20 person crew, along with a basic landing pad for future Ares supply missions, and a small methane processor. The first crew spent close to three months on the surface before returning to Goddard with the first resupply shuttle that brought the MDB-1 Drill to the surface to carve out an underground habitat.
The Mars 1 crew were also the first mission to Mars to confirm that life was present on the surface up until as late as 200,000 years ago, in the form of extremophile bacteria.
Additional MEV Missions
After the initial two year success of Goddard, MSD began launching missions in pairs to the planet every two years to accelerate the rate of exploration and development. Fifteen MEVs were launched to Mars in all, carrying close to twenty thousand people to Mars.
|Mission||Launch Date||Launch Vehicle||Planned Profile||Results|
|Frontier 1||2020 Feb 2||MEV-1 Robert H. Goddard'||First Stage Exploration Mission||Establishment of First permanent Martian Settlements. Discovery of fossilized remains of ancient macro-scale life. Navigation errors and life support issues overcome.|
|Frontier 2||2022 Oct 6||MEV-2 Werner Von Braun'||First 2-Tier Exploration and Development Mission||First pair launch mission with Frontier 3. Develops established Bases into fully self sufficient outposts capable of producing all of their own food and water.|
|Frontier 3||2022 Oct 6||MEV-3 Hermann Oberth||First 2-Tier Exploration and Development Mission||First pair launch mission with Frontier 2. Develops established Bases into fully self sufficient outposts capable of producing all of their own food and water.|
|Frontier 4||2023 Aug 5||MEV-4 Yuri Gagarin||First 2-Tier Stage 2 Mission||First mission launched outside of window when Mars is closest to the Earth. Non-line-of-sight navigation issues and Near-Sol life support systems perfected.|
|Frontier 5||2023 Aug 5||MEV-5 Alan Sheppard||First 2-Tier Stage 2 Mission||First mission launched outside of window when Mars is closest to the Earth. Non-line-of-sight navigation issues and Near-Sol life support systems perfected.|
|Frontier 6||2024 Apr 7||MEV-7 John Glen||First 2-Tier Stage 3 Mission||First dedicated development mission, launched within Mars 2-Year window.|
|Frontier 7||2024 Jun 7||MEV-6 Buzz Aldrin||First 2-Tier Stage 3 Mission||First dedicated development Mission. Delayed due to malfunction in VASIMR drive.|
Initial Settlement Development
Over 100 missions to the Martian surface were launched from Goddard before crews began to establish permanent shelters under the martian surface. Once these long-term bases were established, the crews began launching exploration missions independently from Goddard, and the other craft that followed. Spread all over the planet, these bases eventually came to drive several kilometers below the surface of the planet, due in part to the complex network of caverns under the Martian surface.
These settlements eventually came to have a planet-wide population of 140,000, and contributed to the widespread scientific exploration of the planet. The majority of the population, however, did not come on the MEVs, most traveled by privately contracted Mars Cyclers which made regular gravity driven transits from the Earth to Mars.
Most of the initial colonists were engineers and technicians, however a number of people left for Mars simply for the thrill of exploring the unknown. By 2027, a number of settlements that were clustered together had limited transit networks running between the underground hubs, and were conducting limited mineral processing along with their own life support desires.
While the initial development of Mars proved to be very successful, the long term goal of the Frontier Program was ultimately to establish a second home for humanity. The purpose of this was later described by Captain Bell, as an effort to take the strain off of Earth and speed up the recovery from the Flood.
The terraforming effort was being planned throughout the course of the Frontier Program's early days, and while a number of scenarios were being considered, Generation Enterprise, under Mariner's authority, pumped trillions into R&D for projects that could ultimately aid the program. By 2027 those investments paid off with the first Nano-Fabricator, which Mariner immediately contracted for the production of the facilities needed to terraform the planet. Over the course of the next five years, Mariner in concert with the newly formed International Space Agency, launched a series of missions to the Asteroid belt and constructed a battery of facilities on the surface of Mars and in orbit around Earth for terraforming purposes. The first of these facilities were the perfluorocarbon and CO2 regolith extractors, huge facilities constructed across the planet's surface that pumped billions of tons of CFCs and CO2 into the martian atmosphere creating a limited ozone layer and greenhouse effect.
In 2033 the Mariner deployed the first Mars Solar Mirrors, massive reflective spacecraft that would reflect the sun's light and thermal energy and project it across the planet's surface. These ships, the Apollo, the Freyr, the Garuda, the Lugh, the Helios, the Amaterasu, and the Ra moved all over the planet to drive an even increase in temperature thanks to their enormous golden mirrors, each thirty kilometers in diameter. With the mirrors and the atmosphere processors working in harmony, Mars's atmosphere began to build up and the temperature of the planet began to rise.
By 2035 Mars's mean temperature had risen by as much as 50 degrees C, and atmospheric pressure had risen to as much as 30 kPa. The polar caps had completely melted, releasing water vapor and CO2 into the atmosphere and covering the planet's basins shallow seas. With these initial changes, the few researchers and colonists no longer had to wear full pressure suits to leave the outposts.
Building a Magnetosphere
That same year, what many consider the most difficult aspect of terraforming began for the first time on Mars, building a stable magnetosphere to shield the planet from radiation. Extensive study of Earth's magnetosphere and internal structure had given the terraforming team a good idea of how a Magnetosphere like Earth's could be applied to Mars, who's weak magnetic field had all but vanished.
To produce a lasting Magnetic field, the terraforming team constructed the Vergil Deep Core Drills on the planet's surface, six massive heat drills, that tunneled through the crust of Mars to reach the planet's core and begin a process of repeatedly orbiting the nearly ancient core thereby adding new fluidity and heat. To further reactivate the maritan core, a series of super-heavy yield nuclear devices, each exceeding 200 Mt, were detonated over the next ten years, in fifty detonation bursts.
The Vergil drills, and nuclear detonations, however, were never intended to do more than start a very limited spin. What would ultimately drive the sustained magnetic field would be the deployment of a series of asteroid tugs to deorbit a number of large asteroids from the belt into Martian orbit to be fused with Phobos and Demos via super heating with the space mirrors and gravity collision with the other asteroids. The process became the first recorded event of humans creating new stellar bodies.
The new moons, which retained the names of the original satellites, began to put tidal forces on Mars that increased the spin of the core while giving motion to the growing water bodies, preventing stagnation.
While the geo-engineering projects were still underway, humanity began the decades long process of giving Mars a sustainable biosphere. While most of the primordial Martian life was cloned to return to the new seas, most of the life was brought in from Earth and genetically engineered to most effectivley ballence the biosphere. Mars was the first planet where the ecology was largely artificial, and taylored not just for the terrain, but to best suit the humans who would come to inhabit the planet in mass.
The first life forms to reach the martian surface were genetically modified lichens and algae that spread throughout the oceans and the warmer parts of the planet's surface. These tough creatures had very short life spans, but spread and reproduced rather quickly. The lichens were designed for filtering the atmosphere, while the Algea filtered both the water to safer levels and the air. Once CO2 levels dropped sufficiently in an area the basic oraganisms would no longer reproduce as vigerously and more advanced life could be seeded. Once temperatures reached high enough levels, moss, small brush and ferns, and corals were seeded, ramping up oxygen production. The whole process only took about a decade due to human intervention and the genetically modified nature of the flora.
By 2040 Mars's atmosphere was beginning to show higher concentrations of oxygen at the warmer poles, and the oceans were quicly filling with basic life. By this point the first trees were introduced allong with the first ocean going animals. Man-made O2 production allowed some equitorial regions to position small widelife regions to test the new biozones. By 2050 Mars had a fairly stable atmosphere, and a strong array of biospheres that did not get in the way of the human colonists.