Government on Mars

This is an article dealing with the establishment of government on Mars and posing three questions that need to be thought about before we go.

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We were wondering what a government on Mars might look like and how it might develop from the initial command and control type model through to some sort of representative government when the settlement gets a bit bigger. When thinking about this, it’s worth thinking about some of the basics, such as what is required to govern a settlement at the different stages of its development, and how much direction would a colony on Mars need, and where would that come from, Earth or Mars?

At the start

At the most basic level, an initial human landing on Mars would be controlled from Earth, which makes sense. The crew will have a commander, and the model of command and control would be quite linear, with a clear redundancy of leadership if the commander was incapacitated or killed. All crew members would know exactly what their roles were and what their secondary roles were, not too dissimilar to the way a small Antarctic Base is run, or the way the military conducts activities on Earth, or the way a ship is run. In these early stages the mission would have a strict timetable of daily activities with almost constant reporting back to mission control on Earth and plenty of two way conversation. The team operating on Mars would have almost no autonomy at this point as it is mainly dependent on guidance from Earth.

Mission Control on Mars

At some point, the size of the newly established settlement would reach a scale where the leadership would be spending all of their time running the facility and the activities associated with the site. The types of tasks here would be ensuring that habitats were operating, working facilities were functioning, cargo movement to and from Earth was being coordinated (from the Mars end) and mission specific requirements from Earth were being met. Earth would need to hand over some of the requirements for running these facility management tasks as the growing team on Mars would have the tools to deal with many of the problems themselves. The Mars team would need to establish their own mission control to control their own prioritisation of work.

When does Earth handover to Mars?

This leads to the next point, which is regarding the role of direction from Earth. Initially any mission to Mars would be solely reliant on constant feedback to mission control from Earth. At some point, the complexity and number of tasks will reach such a level that coordination of tasks must move to Mars and only groups of tasks or general work objectives would be run from Earth. This would be the first time that some form of autonomy would develop within the group on Mars, as the group would get some form of control over their own destiny, even if it was just day to day task management. This might be very limited at first, such as when maintenance would occur or what local jobs would get prioritised but it would cut down the basic coordinating workload of the mission control function on Earth, as more of this would be conducted by the mission control on Mars.

Overtime, and with increasing scale, the requirement to manage things in situ would increase, necessitating the formation of some sort of structure to the settlement’s management and governance. There would be the different departments dealing with research, infrastructure, food, water, waste management, raw materials acquisition and cargo management among a whole pile of other things. Additionally there would be the growing requirement for some form of coordinating body siting over the different departments to assist the Commander with running the settlement. One can almost see the need for some kind of council. The question then becomes if this council would be representative or arbitrarily appointed from Earth, it could be the birth of lobbying or the formation of interest groups.

The birth of bureaucracy on Mars

Conflict generally arises from competition for resources and this may manifest itself on Mars through conflicting priorities in the different teams. This might include disagreements over who can use certain resources. The leadership of the settlement would quickly find itself having to devise procedures and prioritisation methodologies specific to the local conditions on Mars. At first the Commander’s word would be law, but over time the number and complexity of disputes, or potential disputes, would require the Commander to delegate prioritisation decisions to others. There would be a point when the complexity of each area would grow to such an extent that heads of the different divisions would require their own staff to help run their areas of responsibility. At this stage the “government” of the Mars settlement would have some kind leadership team around the Commander, it could be considered the point where bureaucracy is born.

The provision of social services

Up until this stage in the settlement’s growth most of the functions are to do with the roles and tasks required to build the new life on Mars. As it grows then the population will have a momentum of its own. There will be social needs that have to be met, including entertainment and overtime, there will be the need to be consideration for the provision of social services beyond basic medical care. This would be the stage that the settlement goes from being a linear command and control type model to being one more akin to a local government running a town. It would certainly take on more of that character if family units start developing in the settlement, this would lead to more of a requirement for social services. This would then raise a whole lot of philosophical questions such as the provision of housing, provision of food, provision of energy and access to resources. How would the whole social fabric be set up, would a monetary system need to be established where people were paid for work and in turn could buy things.

Think about it before we go

The structure for the government of a Mars settlement needs to be considered well in advance so that the right people are selected to lead it. It’s certainly not the place to try out different ideologies as the price for getting it wrong would be catastrophic. To me there are three main decision points: When does Earth hand over control to Mars of day to day functions of the settlement? What does Earth hand over to, in that what will be in control on Mars? At what point does general population grow big enough that it will want to exercise its own decision making in some representative form? All of these questions should be thought about and well debated long before we set foot on Mars.