Leading space agencies have the intention to bring humans to Mars in the next decades, and some private companies push for sooner deadlines. In fact, promises and plans to land humans on Mars have been recurrently announced since the end of the Apollo era, but have remained largely incomplete or even abandoned.
Besides the outstanding technological challenges and the budget required for the trip alone (the showstopper), team dynamics and planetary protection are equally important to the acceptance and success of human Mars missions. Our starting point is the assumption that Mars exploration will happen and that it will have a huge impact on humankind and on the Mars environment. Since even optimists do not expect humans on Mars before the 2030s, we believe that now is the right time to research possible scenarios for human Mars exploration and settlement, and to study the consequences for Earth, Mars and humankind.
Our approach to human Mars exploration is transdisciplinary and human-centered. On the one hand, humankind has experienced tremendous progress and increase in welfare since the Apollo era. On the other hand, we see unambiguously the immense impact of increasing population and welfare on the environmental pollution and associated climate changes.
In a nutshell, while the development of new technologies has been the main driver of progress, it has also put Earth in danger. We argue here that human Mars exploration can be instrumental in leading a change from a technology-centered toward a human-centered society, thereby solving our most pressing problems on Earth.
Specifically, the thin CO2 Martian atmosphere, the scarcity of energy sources and water, the difficulties to produce food and consumables, and the need for cooperative human-robotic crews all present challenges whose solutions will be of enormous benefit to Earth. In summary, the mindset emerging from thinking under the severe constraints in Mars could be revolutionary.