Cheers went up at Johnson Space Center the day the atmosphere within International Moon Base Destiny was deemed breathable. All of the news outlets interrupted their regularly scheduled programming with the Breaking News. Scientists touted the milestone as proof that we could colonize Mars. Philosophers philosophized about the importance of Man’s first foray into colonizing other worlds. Politicians took credit, and documentarians documented everything.
Commander Viktor Popov, Mission Specialist Botanist Ana Popov, Mission Specialist Dr. Hsu Li, and Mission Specialist Dr. Bill ‘Bull’ Durham were mankind’s first semi-permanent colonists in space. Of the four of them, Dr. Durham made the biggest sacrifice to live on the moon. He was the only non-vegetarian in the group. He already had an F-24 on standby and reservations at Shula’s Steakhouse in Miami for when they returned to Earth in five years.
The first three robotic missions to Mars launched while the crew of Destiny base waited to clear quarantine in Russia. A fourth unmanned mission launched several weeks later bound for the south pole of Mars. The first of the unmanned missions had a two month head start on them, but they were in their new home on the moon well before it arrived at the Mars polar ice cap.
In May 2063, mankind’s first permanent interplanetary colonists blasted off on a ship the size of a small RV for the three month journey to Mars. On August 18th, Commander Don Boatman, Mission Specialist Botanist Sophia Boatman, and Mission Specialists Drs. Steven and Lisa Fuller entered the airlock of the Mars Terraforming and Habitation Laboratory to become the First Martians. They named it Math Lab. Some people back on Earth nicknamed it Meth Lab. A week after they landed on Mars a mobile laboratory arrived with all the tools necessary to kick start life on Mars, and they set about the business of terraforming Mars.
The habitat-building robots stayed busy building new greenhouses, labs, and living quarters onto Math Lab. Two grueling years later the First Martians were joined in their great red igloo by four new colonists. Then two years after that, four more colonists arrived. Then four more and four more until there were twenty scientists busy trying to release CO2 into the thin atmosphere of Mars. The laboratory at the south pole did the same but on a much grander scale manned by only three robots. The last group of colonists to arrive at Math Lab also brought some special passengers with them; chickens and rabbits. The First Martians were ecstatic at the prospect of their first protein in a decade, but they would have to wait another two weeks for the chickens to start laying eggs.
Nothing went to waste on Mars. Plants created oxygen and food for humans. Humans created carbon dioxide for plants. Urine and feces were filtered and separated into water and fertilizer for the plants. Rabbits served as test subjects and Sunday dinner cooked in multi-million dollar solar powered ovens. Eggs were the protein for the rest of the week, most often in the form of tomato and spinach omelets with a side of hash browns. Those ovens also served as glass makers, heaters, and any other use the colonists could think of. One day the Drs. Fuller discovered a deposit of salt while testing soil a few kilometers away from Math Lab. Pleas were sent back to Earth. One of the robots was reprogrammed as a salt miner, and life on Mars became almost civilized.
More robotic missions rocketed to Mars to build huge greenhouses filled with plants carefully chosen for their nutritional or medicinal value or their ability to produce the greatest amount of oxygen. The term greenhouse was a bit of a misnomer though because all of the glass produced on Mars had a pinkish hue. Colonists arrived four at a time. Each new arrival brought new robots and left a satellite in orbit. Communications satellites, GPS, weather satellites, and surveyors all orbited the red planet.
Sophia Boatman became the first person to die on Mars in 2080. She died of natural causes and was laid to rest in Greenhouse 1. All sixty-three Martians attended her memorial, and a billion more watched it live from Earth. A peach tree was planted as her headstone. Grief turned to joy one month later when Dr. Angelina Tucci gave birth to the first native Martian; a girl she named Sophia. Hers had been an unplanned pregnancy, but it opened the door for other women to ‘forget’ to take their annual birth control injections. By the year 2090, the population of Mars consisted of eighty adults and eight children. That same year the powers that be, millions of miles away on another planet, called the colonization of Mars an unmitigated success and officially declared that all Martian families could have one child each.
Blood would still boil in the thin atmosphere of Mars, but in 2100, officially called Mars Terraforming and Habitation Laboratory #2, the settlement of Olympus Mons was established on the gentle southern slope of the ancient volcano. The colonists planned to tap into the natural geothermal energy they hoped to find there. What they found instead was a revelation.
Coal. Great huge deposits of coal buried deep within Olympus Mons. That barren behemoth had been the site of lush forests many millions or billions of years ago. After a century of scraping rocks and analyzing soil samples, they had finally found definitive proof of ancient life on Mars. The old arguments about contaminating Mars sprang up again, but they quickly died off as it was rightly pointed out that the argument was moot after nearly forty years of intentionally contaminating Mars. Yes, they had found proof of alien life on Mars, but more specifically they had found coal. It would act as a fuel source while accelerating the greenhouse effect by untold decades.
The Martian coal rush began in earnest a few years later when the first commercial mission to Mars arrived to begin mining. Several oil companies quickly followed suit because where there was coal then surely there must be oil. They took with them their expertise and equipment. A BP survey team made the next great discovery on Mars. Using ground penetrating radar, they discovered what appeared to be the remains of a city near the base of a cliff on the northern slope of Olympus Mons.