The design of a mars base is obviously a very difficult task that will likely take contribution from many different groups. However, while a lunar base has incentives such as mining of Helium-3, does a mars base have similar incentives?


  • Are there economic incentives for a mars base? If so what are they? (ie. what new industries would benefit from this colony)
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    $\begingroup$ One of the major players is SpaceX, who have no economic incentives. Their objective is to make humanity multi-planetary, in case somehow Earth becomes un-inhabitable. $\endgroup$ Commented May 18, 2021 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag While this is something I'm sure they'd like you to think, that's more marketing than truth. SpaceX is a company, it has to make a profit just to keep operating. They are absolutely subject to economic incentives. You'll note that they have no actually sent anything to Mars, despite that being one of their original stated goals. I love that SpaceX is pushing boundaries and lowering the cost of space flight, but they have perfectly legit economic reasons to do so. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ Helium-3 is not actual economic incentive. $\endgroup$
    – Ken Fabian
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ As I read some time ago, to establish a colony on Mars would be akin to the British establishing a penal colony half a world away to what eventually became Australia, way back in 1788. The incentive for the British then was to rid themselves of the "criminal classes". All because of a successful rebellion by 13 colonies from 1765 onward. Temperatures on Mars range from -127C to 20C. In Siberia the range is -45C to 20 C. Apart from Tsarist & Soviet gulags, Russia hasn't yet found the right incentives get people to live in Siberia. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ Siberia has a population of over 33 million. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2021 at 11:28

5 Answers 5


There are a number of things of value that might be developed on or exported from Mars such as:

Soil, rock and ice samples for scientific study or commercial sale, Examples of existing or extinct life (as living specimens or preserved remains), Tourism, Television rights, Advertising, Specialty made on Mars consumer products, Title to assets on Mars such as accommodation, power production or resource processing units and Patents

That said the cost of setting up a base on Mars is likely to be extremely high and IMO the above items will need to be significantly subsidized by governments and/or philanthropic private investments.

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    $\begingroup$ These all represent ways to recoup some of the costs, but are not incentives capable of supporting comprehensibly capable high tech, high cost Mars colonies and without actual and overall economic profitability I do not believe any colonies will be possible. But I think successful colonies are emergent outcomes of enduring economic success of outposts of a greater economy and fail otherwise. $\endgroup$
    – Ken Fabian
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Television rights might not yield much. Everyone watched Apollo 11. US television channels pulled the coverage of Apollo 12 when Alan Bean accidentally damaged the color television camera when he pointed it to the Sun very early in the transmission. No US television channels broadcast the crew transmission from Apollo 13 just prior to the cryogenic tank explosion. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred It might not, but it will be of some value. If people are living there the situation will be a bit different from Apollo. How about a documentary or film based on Mars? Content could be factual or fictional. Some sort of soap opera based on the trials and tribulations of living on Mars with human interest stories of relationships between the crew etc. Something non technical but with an unusual setting. Might be quite a lot of content that was of interest to the public. How much of that wold be desirable from a mission planning perspective is another question. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ Half serious & half joking, maybe a real version of the Truman Show from Mars. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps your right who knows! It could be even worse, no doubt there would be money to be had in low gravity sexual antics. And a great deal of interest in the testing of vague laws that would be difficult to enforce and liable to cause political embarrassment. There could be a great deal of content that was not really in the public interest that nevertheless really interested the public. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 12:54

I see five main categories of economic incentive in any sort of near-future extra-terran base, be this on the Moon or on Mars:

  • Data and Science: Unlike conventional goods, data is extremely lightweight and easy to transport. Sending it from Mars to Earth is cheap and fast. Science is a bit tricky to monetize but there are models. For example, pharmaceutical companies could hire Martian scientists and rent martian lab-space with the condition that any results obtained are intellectual property of that company. Similarly, just like researchers rent 'telescope time', universities and other parties with money could rent 'rover time', 'astronaut time', or even pay to have their scientific instrument manufactured on-site and then used. Particularly in the pharma and materials science space, low-gravity research can be very valuable.

  • Legal nonsense: Now, this one is a bit more questionable, but there are many smaller nations here on Earth that fund a not-insignificant part of their economy by enabling legal and financial trickery for clients and providing nation-specific services such as unique TLDs. For example, there's a reason that there's only one American cruise ship on Earth--the others are all registered to countries with laxer labor and tax codes. A colony on Mars or on the Moon could probably make a mint by becoming a tax haven and allowing companies to register there, for a small fee of course.

  • Tourism: A trip to Mars would be quite extreme for a tourist because it would probably be at least a year in total, but there are enough ultra-wealthy people that it is probably feasible. Simply price tickets in the multi-millions and you'd probably be able to turn a profit, provided there's already some infrastructure and flight heritage. Private individuals have paid north of $10 million just for a two-week stay on the ISS plus months of astronaut training, so I think this is a definite possibility.

  • Souvenirs and art: Certain people go crazy over collectables and other rare items. If you could, for example, sell coinage that was minted on Mars or small samples of Mars rocks here on Earth, you could make a killing. For example, how much could you sell a small vial of Mars dust for? Today, it would cost north of 10 billion dollars, because we haven't done any sample return yet, but even if there is a permanent settlement on the Mars or Moon, dust and other samples would probably retain enough value to be quite profitable.

  • Space Infrastructure: This one is a bit more speculative, but one of the main advantages I see for the Martian system is the possibility of using the moons Phobos and Deimos as launch points for outer-system exploration via momentum exchange tethers. Similarly, launching fuel up to orbit from Mars or from the Moon is much cheaper than launching it through Earth's thick atmosphere and deep gravity well. Mars could be used as a casting-off point for asteroid mining or host to orbital manufacturing facilities to refine said asteroids. The problem with this point is that it doesn't directly earn money just like a gas station doesn't make money if there aren't any cars to refuel. Until there's actual demand for this, It won't really be economically feasible.

It should be noted that mining or bulk material processing will not be profitable anywhere in the near term. Even if we had orbital transportation infrastructure, shipping even valuable refined metals to Earth is not worth it. Yes, there will be mining and refining, but this will all be the means to an end. Martian mines won't export material to space, but rather will use that material to build infrastructure on Mars. Until we have systems like space elevators or other mega structures, shipping even gold or platinum probably wouldn't be worth it.

  • $\begingroup$ sending data from Mars to Earth is not cheap and is not fast (yet) see this answer(cost) $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2021 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ @BrendanLuke15 That's with the DSN which will doubtlessly be upgraded/replaced by the time human colonization is seriously considered. Also, the few million bucks it costs is pocket change and messages travel at light speed. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with that first point, I guess it's the wording: all other propositions in the answer are written as 'what will happen' whereas the comment on data is written as 'this is what happens'. As for speed I was referring to data rates. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2021 at 11:49

TLDR: there isn't and it doesn't matter. What people wish and what they do is more important.

For some reason I was believing it was migrated from worldbuilding and was about to write how so so sooo sooo much is wrong with the question, but it seems brain damage on my side, so I will say - quite wrong perspective, so as certain degree of op's laziness as there plenty of mars holly warriors out there and discussions on that topic.

Zubrin brings 3 major incentives, I do support only one of them, finding or making a step in the finding of the origins of life. This question, or more results of it have multifacet fundamental implications related to long therm survivial of humankind. I do not buy second basket, I mean a different thing but it sound too outlandish if described in few sentences, like the q - do we build death star or not.

It more to illystrate that subjective incentives behind people's interest about mars and activities on mars can be different and wast.

This just one example, but there are many more, and each human interested in mars can have it's own, as mars is a planet, it is big big big, so it not a surprise that there are many angles to look at that elephant.

Sorry for such an introduction, but it how I do things and it can't be helped. Here a litte bit more basics.

Mars is a planet, a planet, Karl. Yes, compared to earth it a bit smaller, but compared to any country it is big, and it even bigger if yout think about that there is no wildlife to preserve, I mean 100% surface can be used for whatever. It can host full cycle economy, full cycle of technologies, all supply chains whithin itself.


It does not get old, Mars is a plnet. It is not a banana republic. It means it can host as much industry as Earth. Selfsufficiency is 100% possible, there can be questions in how to get from initial nothing to that result, but there are no doubts about possibility of such result.

And here we get to few fundamentals

  • at this point, writing the answer, I realised that you probably worded your question wrong, and it should have been - is there a self propeling, self greasing way to build colony on mars and develop it to a city size at least. An step by step road, where our investments balance to net zero losses with profits at each step, at least. Meaning good old capitalist way, when you do not take credits but invest your profits in yourself. The answer is yes, but how is a bit different question, I will touch some parts of it here but it more complex.

Whatever cash making thing you are looking on mars, there will be perod of investments, when one spend spend spend money and get nothing in return. It does not matter what is that cash making thing you imagine or wish. It also means whatever is a short therm or long therm goal, or idea behind the activiy, they all start the same by pouring cash in the thing, a lot of cash. And how long it will take before you start gain some returns, depends in ideas, and the ways it is done, but by no means it will be a short period time but more like decades, it takes 2 years for launch window to appear, how can it be fast. (There are unconventional approaches, but out of scope, not a constat g, just a different starting position for space activity)

A wrong thing number one is looking at mars as cash cow from the start, it not a cash cow, it money black hole.

There is nothing bad about that or unusual, same as the home/house one lives and have mancave there it is a place to live, and we work, many of us, elswhere to sustain it. To feed ourselfs and maintain the home.

In that sense one of the ways is to have a profitable business on the earth and invest dividends in your house, mars colony whatever. And in that sense StarLink is a good example.

Cosidering initial anoncement was like 500 grand per ticket, and goal like a million people, eventually, it is a potencial for 500billion investment, 500 billion business.

When you think about Amazon it not neessarly looks that big but it 2 General Motors or 3 Boeing size companies. And for mars the companies which deal with technologies are important as it needs to export technologies(knowhows how to make thigs, not equipment) from earth to mars to be able to produce technological goods for local consumption, in that regard SpaceX and Tesla are good examples, especialy those incentives of in house production, meaning having a whole chain of expertiese of converting source materials to end goods, at least taste of it.

Looking for sole/single incentive to relay upon to drive the whole train it won't do, it won't work for moon and it won't work for mars, space habs a bit different story, belters are on the border betwee yes and no. It won't work because the task is highly diverse and big, and income from a single thing won't satisfy you demands in most cases, cases regular/casual people talk about.

You invest what you have on earth and profits you have on earth, to open new perspectives for yourself, new possibilities. You buy yoursef an opportunity, and mars is goods/commodity and its business value is secondary. I'm not a big fan of mars second home, I prefer space habs, but problems with those major 3 or 4 directions(hi belters - moon, mars, space habs, asteroids) it pretty much the same. Where get the money and how to establish technological and industrial capacities in places of your choice. If one thinks to maintain supply chains between mars and earth, this one is clueless aboutn what it takes and what technoogies are as of today. Dital goods and services those are viable.

And it needs to understand that establishing industrial capacities in space is a fundametal problem so as one of the universal solutions for make things happen.

P.S. I had other aspects to talk about as well, but I think it good enough conslusion, a good starting point for anyone who think about those problems, so then let's leave it at that, as it is inconvinient to type on a tablet, so as it gets too big.

Plz some one run a spellchecker on the answer.

P.P.S. It seems I didn't gave any food at all, so I have to give at least some, here it is

cash cow - development of nuclear and fusion reactors, selling technologies or alike.

Energy on mars is one of the fundamental problems to solve, so nuclear and fusion rectors are one of the things which can solve the problem, and due absene of water and life and it radiation anyway - there is more freedm in therms of what safety measures are required and which are not and how you conduct testings and stuff.

Due the necessities and freedoms it may lead to more intensive and rapid development in those technologies, more installations more hours of proven work, more robust constructions - so mars can take leading edge in those technologies and keep it that way and license them for profit. License fees or other ways to gain profit on that knowledge, like mars inc which is certified to use those technologies on earth, and exchanges profits for what mars may need.

There are many aspects of life on mars which require special attencion and requirements, and some of the technologies can be exported.

In that sense mars may become a science hub, technology hub concentrating productive workforce which is located as on mars so as on earth, and channel those technologis in to profits on earth - improoving life on mars and getting money for that.

So that probably is your golden bullet and ladder in the sky - deveopment of technologies.

It may work because quite often for technologies to start and survive before maturing it needs sufficient incentive to develop it, mars has unique set of incentives, a different one from earths established economy and way of life, and portion of those important for mars technologie can be used on earth, after they are mature enough.

As an example, here on earth we can choose recycle trash or not, on mars it a necessity, and clearly they will be better at doing so at some point.

Or food production, robotic farm equipment, soil preparation, indoors growing, gmo's, fish growing .... just insanly big topic important for both places, but more so for mars, and sure they will be better at that at some point.

Medicine, another big big topic with higher importance for mars.

And those are things mars can't slak on, meaning strong incentive for real efficient and good managment, and any mistake will be on display very fast and it will cost lifes. Boeng, nasa can slak and spend resources god knows where, they won't die if there is no result, they can alow themselfs to be not focused, and if there is a result their life won't improve that much, if any change at all. Totally different environment and perspective on mars - you get result you have improvement in your daily life as the communiy as a whole - sense of purpose will skyrocket, testings is it good or bad idea will be fast and efficient.

Etc. Technologies is new gold.


Earth has finite living area, people like their decendents to have somewhere to live and if they can be founding members of a new world they will get a head start in using that living space. The question then becomes, can mars emigration become cheap enough thar people can travel on their own expense.

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    $\begingroup$ Mars is less hospital that anywhere on Earth's surface, so you have to consider how hard it is to live on Mars vs making more livable space on Earth. If space is the driving factor, Antarctic colonies and floating/undersea colonies would come before Mars colonies. You'd also have to justify Mars vs the Moon or orbital habitats. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 21:26

I would start with the lower gravity, much thinner atmosphere, an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide, iron oxides top soil, and the largest mountain on a planet in the solar system.

Gravitational energy storage could be built on the gentle slope of the Olympus Mons. Any extra quanta of energy can be stored there and venture to the Asteroid belt could use a base on top of the Mons. The rocket using electric power is recharged by the storage. By the same token, rocket going to Earth and the Moon is also recharged. The service for energy storage charge the companies who use it.

  • $\begingroup$ Why the downvote? The slope of the Mons is gentle; gravitational energy storage is possible. $\endgroup$
    – Kav
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ We could use K2 for energy storage too, yet we don't. Why would Mars be any different? Using this type of energy storage would require a huge amount of effort for basically no benefit. It would be much more efficient to simply store power in batteries or, even better, directly use it to synthesize fuel that can be sold for a profit to parties that want to refuel their spacecraft. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:11

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