Life on Mars in Mid-21st Century
Musgrave Station was the only settlement named for an astronaut. The stations were traditionally named after astronomers or space scientists, usually ones who had some special interest in Mars, whereas the areographical features were named for astronauts. Located inside a cave in Musgrave Ridge, the station was named for a 20th-century astronaut famous as a member of the team that had saved the Hubble Space Telescope. Because Hubble was the most important astronomical instrument of its time, Musgrave got credit as both an astronomer and an astronaut. For these reasons, the station and the ridge on which it was located had the same name.
As the rover approached, the first visible part of the station was the radio dish perched atop the ridge, with the long, semi-cylindrical shape of the hydroponic garden coming into view only as they grew nearer. Like all Mars settlements, Musgrave was self-contained, at least in the short term, and the hydro garden helped in that regard by providing some of the food and oxygen for the Colony. Even though the sunlight falling on Mars is only 40% as intense as that on Earth, it is sufficient to sustain plant life and power photosynthesis.
The next feature to emerge in their sight was the solar power array with its hundreds of panels that swiveled like sunflowers following the sun’s daily journey across the sky. A robo could be seen servicing one of the panels. The solar installation provided the electrical power necessary to run the station, was used to charge lithium ion batteries, and generated hydrogen and oxygen for the fuel cells that powered the station at night. In the event of a general system failure, the station also had a small nuclear reactor that could provide survival power.
Although the settlement was self-sustaining, it was in theory only. In practice, a colony of 34 people cannot function independently permanently. There is simply not enough redundancy, either mechanical or human, to compensate for the inevitable malfunctions. In fact, the entire Mars Colony of nearly 600 people, disbursed though they were, would be considered uninsurable by any self-respecting actuary. The statistical universe is too small and the individual risks too numerous and large. After an investment of $10 billion a year for nearly 40 years, Mars Colony was still hanging by its fingers.
The robo that was servicing the solar array was an example of how automation had made colonization possible. These tools serviced the other mechanical systems of the station, tended the hydro gardens, cleaned house, and did all of the heavy lifting and drudge work that was the inevitable by-product of civilization. They were controlled by the station’s computer system, which in turn was linked to those systems in the other stations. The aggregate of these systems created a management tool that was very effective in coordinating Colonial activities as well as avoiding wasted effort on the part of the Colony’s limited transportation and manufacturing capacity. Because robo labor was in limited supply, although demand for labor on the part of the Colonists was theoretically unlimited, the management system balanced these economic forces using money—credit money—as the medium of exchange. Any activity performed by a robo had to be billed to someone. The robo that was repairing the solar array was being “paid” by the settlement, as the array’s electrical output was used by the settlement at large. The settlement had an account with the Colony at large, which included all seven of the settlements, and the Colony had an account with the Mars Colonial Corporation. If an individual Colonist spilled his milk on the floor of his parents’ apartment and a housekeeping robo cleaned it up, the cost of that activity was billed to the Colonists’ household account. Because robos were very expensive, their time was costly as well, which in turn made it prohibitively expensive for a parent to have a robo clean up Junior’s mess. The Colonists at Musgrave, like those of the Mars Colony as a whole, were a mixture of scientists and technicians, some of whom were employed by Mars Corporation, some by other corporations, universities, governments, nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and some as independent contractors. While all were extremely well-paid professionals, because it was so expensive to ship things to Mars, as much as $25,000 per kilogram, the cost of living on Mars was equally high. Compared to Mars, San Francisco or Tokyo would seem like tourist bargains. Consequently, most Colonists had little money to spend on luxuries and chose to clean up their own messes, saving the robos for heavy and potentially profitable work.