Alternate History

Timeline (Habitable Mars)

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First Missions

1947- The Lowell Observatory using a new spectrographic telescope determines the presence of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere.

20 July 1965- "Mariner-II" passes within 10,000 km of Mars. It returns pictures of an arid, but habitable world. Large swathes of lichen and even grass-like plant life is seen, and the detection of an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere at breathable pressure levels.

27 November 1971- "Mars-2", a Soviet probe, crashes on the surface of the planet. Apparently its parachute failed to open, but it does become the first man-made object on the Red Planet.

2 December 1971- "Mars-3", a similar probe from the USSR, makes a soft landing on the Chryse Planitia. After transmitting a single photo of the surface, it fails due to a computer glitch. The single photo shows a landscape similar to America's southwest.

20 July 1976- "Viking-1" makes the first successful soft landing of a probe on Mars in the Chryse Planitia. It takes color photos of the planet, including close-ups of both plant life and a single hexapodal insect which landed on its camera test target. Soil samples analyzed showed proof positive of fertile soil and a breathable atmosphere.

3 September 1976- "Viking-2" lands in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars. Miraculously, it misses by less than 500 meters a small swampy area of the plain that would have likely sunk the craft or at least severely damaged it. Soil and plant collections from "Viking-2" lead to the discovery of large water deposits, most on a subsurface level.

1976-1980- With the discovery of animal and plant life (as well as earlier discovery of water and a breathable atmosphere) on Mars, President Carter approves funding for "Ares-1", a manned mission to Mars.

Meanwhile, the Soviets, after abandoning a Moon mission in 1969, have increased the size and duration of their "Salyut" space station missions, with "Salyut-6" (launched in 1976) breaking an endurance record of 185 days (more than 1/2 the time needed to go to Mars). Soviet space watchers predict that they will expand "Salyut-7" and possibly use it to test a full-length "Mars mission" endurance mission.

1977-With the budget infusion given to NASA because of the revolution of a habitable Mars, the Voyager space probes are upgraded to achieve much higher velocities and leave the solar system on direct paths to Alpha Centauri after completing the Planetary Grand Tour.

1978-Voyager I conducts its Jupiter flyby. With the addition of advanced sensors, Voyager detects water under the surface of the Gallean Moons.

1979-Voyager II makes its Saturn flyby cataloging high resolution images of Titan, and confirming the presence of Methane.

March 1981- Advanced planning for "Ares-1" manned Mars mission is completed, while contracts are awarded to builders of the spacecraft components. The vessel, which will have a crew of 12, will use Space Shuttle components (particularly an uprated SSME, Space Shuttle Main Engine), and will take approximately 13 months to reach Mars. The launch date is set for July 15, 1985.

5 November 1984- "Salyut-8/9" is renamed "Mir-Mars" and is launched by the Soviet Union to Mars. It has a crew of six, three men and three women. For three months, the flight seems nominal and as the ship passes Venusian orbit (it used a "swing-around" orbit to reach Mars), the crew was reported as healthy.

On February 7th, 1985, Soviet controllers at the Baikonur Cosmodrome secretly issue a report to the Politburo that they have lost contact with "Mir-Mars" and that telemetry indicates no medical readings from the crew. Investigations are immediately conducted and Soviet astronomers point to a solar flare that occurred just days before contact was lost with the craft. It is believed that the crew died from radiation poisoning, despite an advanced "electro-coil" shielding system incorporated in the habitat module.

December 1984-Voyager II makes its Uranus flyby. Voyager I is currently inbound towards Pluto.

22 February 1985- Faced with no leadership from Moscow (Konstantin Chernenko was gravely ill and near death), no news of the deaths of the "Mir-Mars" crew is released for over two weeks. When it does come out on February 22nd, it is in the Finnish press. The Soviets at first deny the story, but then later was confirmed by Soviet Politburo member Viktor Grishin.

News of the disaster shakes the Soviet people and though there is an out-pouring of world-wide sympathy, it shows cracks in the Soviet system. (This would later be amplified a little more than a year later with the Chernobyl Disaster).

15 July 1985- With its components assembled in late June, fuel tankage for the "Ares-1" mission is docked on July 8th, and the spacecraft leaves Earth orbit on the 15th. Mission Commander Robert Crippen and his crew of eight are due to arrive in Martian orbit on August 7th, 1986.

22 January 1986- Already working on "Ares-2", the Space Shuttle "Challenger" was on a routine component run to the assembly point in Earth orbit, when a catastrophic failure occurred in one of its booster rockets. The entire crew of seven were killed and the Shuttle destroyed. The space program and the nation are rocked by the disaster.

The crew of "Ares-1" too takes it particularly hard. NASA agrees to a plan for the Mars mission to name their landing site "Challenger Base", in honor of the lost crew and Shuttle. Congress approves funding for the construction of a new Shuttle to be named "Endeavour".

7-8 August 1986- "Ares-1" enters Martian orbit on August 7th. The MEM (Mars Excursion Module) enters the atmosphere a day later and lands in the Chryse Planitia (remarkably less than two km from "Viking-1").

Commander Crippen steps out on the surface at 11:43 GMT and plants a flagpole with the American flag, the United Nations flag, and the "Ares Mission" pendant. His famous words "We come to a new world for all of humanity" are repeated for years to come. The rest of the geology, biology, and botany specialists follow him out and spend nearly a week on the surface of Mars. On August 13th, the MSB (Mars Surface Booster) ignites and the crew return to the Orbiter module. A day later, they ignite the main engines for another year's voyage back to Earth.

8 January 1987- Voyager I makes its Pluto flyby giving detailed images of the surface. Upon the discovery that Pluto is actually a very rocky comet the scientific community shortens the list of planets to eight.


17 January 1987- As noted in his State of the Union Address, President Reagan proposes a bill to the Congress. The "Martian Colonization Agenda" or "Mayflower Project" proposes landing up to two dozen humans on Mars by 1997 and establishing a permanent base. Estimated at over $75-100 billion dollars over a 10 year period, many Republicans and Democrats balk at the enormous cost, but public fascination over a potential "new world" helps to get the bill passed.

20 May 1987- "Ares-2" is launched from Earth with a crew of ten. It is due to arrive on July 2nd, 1988.

19 September 1987- "Ares-1" returns to Earth orbit. To protect against any microscopic contamination, the crew remains in quarantine in an orbital module for three weeks, while they are checked for various bacterial and viral infections. None are found and on October 13th, they return to Earth for a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

17 October 1987- The Soviets launch "Mars-Zond-Soyuz", commonly called "MZS-1", commanded by Leonid Kizim. With improvements to their radiation shielding, the USSR makes another attempt to land a man on Mars. The flight goes normally and on December 9th, 1988, a Soviet finally steps foot on the Red Planet at the Syrtis Major Planitia.

Though among the wettest areas of Mars (nearly a marsh), the Soviet craft lands safely and spend nearly a week on the surface, gathering rock, soil, and flora and fauna samples. They lift-off, depart from Martian orbit, and return to Earth on February 24th, 1990. They experience a great deal of culture shock, as they return to Earth two weeks after the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party had agreed to give up its monopoly of power, spelling the collapse of the Soviet Union.

2 October 1988- Components for "Ares-3" are lofted into orbit by Titan-Centaur rockets as well as the Space Shuttle from now until March 1990. It will be the largest spacecraft ever constructed. Propelled by a large nuclear rocket its crew of 14 will be sent to Mars sometime in mid-1990.

2 July 1988- "Ares-2" lands on the Utopia Planitia plain and Mission Commander Richard O. Covey establishes "Grissom Base" (in honor of astronaut Gus Grissom). The primary purpose of this mission is to test the feasibility of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars.

In a temporarily frightening incident, part of that answer was revealed on July 4th. While collecting biological samples from a subsurface site, Dr. Ellen Shulman Baker's EVA suit suffers a catastrophic depressurization. Unable to make it back to the Martian Lander, her suit fills with the outside air and she becomes (involuntarily) the first human to breathe the Martian atmosphere.
Fearful, but apparently unharmed, she is met by Commander Covey and led back to the MEM. Repairs are made to her suit, but she has nonetheless been directly exposed to Mars' air. The crew, trained for containment breaches, undergoes a decontamination procedure, but Baker's unexpected exposure starts a debate on Earth as to how to proceed with the mission. (Previously with "Ares-1", the crew was able to fully decontaminate the Lander before docking of all but small traces of Martian dust).
Ultimately, the mission continues. "Ares-2" lifts off on July 8th

March-June 1990- A debate rises in the United Nations over the planned colonization of Mars by the United States. Several countries (including France) voice opposition to the "nationalist" nature of the colonization, i.e. the fact that it is going to be an "American" colony and not an "international" one. With the collapse of the Soviet Union underway, the Russian ambassador joins in the chorus calling for the colonization of Mars to be put under UN control.

President Bush finally agrees to boost NATO participation in the colonization plans, with a plan to allow four British, two French, and two German colonists to be granted slots in future "Mayflower" missions (set to launch in 1997, 1999).

19 September 1990- "Mars-Zond-Soyuz-2" (MZS-2) is launched from Earth orbit, carrying a crew of seven. It lands north of the massive "Valles Marineris" canyon on January 8th, 1992. Though the mission is the first to examine the largest canyon in the Solar System (and returns with spectacular photos of a quite lush area), upon the return of MZS-2, the Russian Federation cuts funding to any future Mars missions.

President Yeltsin offers the USA the use of the Russian orbital station (where the MZS vessels were launched) for a spot on future American Mars missions. No immediate Russian crew is chosen.

11 August 1991- "Ares-3" lands north of the Elysium Planitia, one of the largest areas of the Red Planet with surface water. As well as continuing scientific analysis of Martian flora and fauna, "Ares-3" carries with it lighter components (inflatable tents, clothing, water purifiers, etc) for maintaining a presence on the planet for up to 3 months. Previous unmanned "cargo drops" launched rations as well as seeds for the establishment of hydroponic gardens. It is the first step in setting up a permanent colony on the planet.

After much debate in the scientific community, "Ares-3" becomes the first "shirt-sleeve environment" mission to Mars, i.e. no pressure suits are used. Though not exactly "shirt-sleeve", the astronauts wear thermal gear (essentially Arctic gear), though on their fourth day on the surface it was warm enough (50 F.) for them to wear only coverall jumpsuits. Mission Commander Kenneth Reightler and crew jokingly called it "the heat wave".
"Ares-3" returns to Earth orbit on February 8th, 1993, after the crew spends a record 73 days on the surface of Mars.

The viability of hydroponic gardening, as well as "cargo drops" from unmanned vehicles, proves that a colony can be created on the planet.

18 October 1992- Presidential candidate Bill Clinton during his debates with President Bush and H. Ross Perot, agrees with the President over Perot's call for a cut in the "Mayflower Project" budget to help alleviate the Federal budget deficit. Clinton says that space exploration inspired him since he heard President Kennedy's speech on the Apollo Program and they were for the good of America and mankind. Though Clinton came under fire from some deficit hawks and liberals who wished to see more spent on social programs, he stuck by that and continued to call for complete funding for the Project.

In May 1993, the Congressional Budget Office released figures that showed the cost of the "Mayflower Project" would exceed $130 Billion dollars by 1996. President Clinton continued to support the program and found off-sets to try to cover some of the higher costs.

8 May 1993- "Mars-Zond-Soyuz-2" returns to Earth. It is the last non-American mission to Mars. Three weeks later, the Chinese Government announced that it was beginning a manned space-flight program called "Shenzhou". Though a manned launch wouldn't occur until 1999, many felt that by 2020, the Chinese might be able to launch a mission to Mars.

15 March 1994- Final components are launched for "Mayflower-1", which will carry ten people (five married couples) to a colony site near the Chryse Planitia (the original "Ares-1" site is a mere two km away). Fueling will be completed on March 29 and the crew departs Earth orbit on April 2nd. Once landed on Mars, the orbital section of the vehicle will be remotely piloted back to Earth to be re-used for "Mayflower-2" crew.

On June 10th, 1995, "Mayflower-1" lands on Mars. Previously, over 20 unmanned cargo pods had been landed on the surface to get the colony started. Four of these were lost and two were over 50 km from the drop site and took some time to recover, but as redundancy had been built into the plan, the remaining 14 were sufficient.

4 April 1995- Voyager I fires its nuclear boosters one last time and leaves the solar system. Voyager II follows just one month later after visiting Senda. Currently both probes are traveling at ten percent the speed of light. They are expected to reach Alpha Centauri in 2027 and continue transmitting for an additional ten years.

9 May 1995- The "Mayflower Orbital Transfer Vehicle" returns to Earth orbit after leaving the "Mayflower-1" crew on Mars. The "Mayflower-2" crew is loaded onboard, as well as fresh supplies and fuel from May 11th to May 23rd. Meanwhile Titan-Centaur launches are temporarily halted due to a fire at a fuel storage depot. They are resumed in October 1995.

"Mayflower-2" is launched to Mars on May 25th, 1995. It lands at the Mayflower Colony at Chryse on August 4th, 1996.

16 October 1997- "Mayflower-3" lands at the Chryse Colony. The total population is now forty-nine, with two British colonists joining the Americans. Hydroponic gardens are up and running, and predictions are by late summer 1998, the colony will be self-sufficient for vegetables and melon fruits.

1996-2001- President Clinton and the Republican Congress agree to another 50 billion dollars in additional funding for "Project: Mayflower". The passage of the bill is eased by the growing budget surplus and the popularity of the colony in public culture. Time-delayed (by about 20 minutes) "live feeds" from Mayflower's Chryse Colony are now a website on the Internet, available 24 hours a day. Colonists are interviewed and questioned (again time-delayed) by school children across the world.

2 June 1999- "Mayflower-4", the largest contingent yet arrives at Chryse. Twenty-two colonists, including two French and two Germans, land and set up housekeeping on the Red Planet. Further expansion of the hydroponic gardens is accomplished, as well as the first attempt to grow vegetables directly in the Martian soil.

20 July 1999- On the day of the 23rd anniversary of the landing of the "Viking-1" probe, John Carter McCullen is born to Frank J. McCullen and Heather Juarez-McCullen at the Chryse Colony on Mars. He becomes the first human being born on another planet. In 2002, Margaret Yolanda Coleman becomes the second "Martian" and first female child born to Martian colonists.

19 October 2003- Voyager II encounters a large body in the Kypler Belt. It is approximately three times the size of Earth and concealed by an ice cloud. It is named the new ninth Planet McCullen.

25 February 2005- President Gore announces a Tier 2 Mayflower Program; the Roanoke Program. It provides an additional $25 billion to NASA for the construction of a replacement for the Areas vehicle; and $10 billion bid for the first private company to design and build a practical Earth to Orbit/Mars to Orbit, Shuttle, that would act as the work horse of the US space program.

4 November 2006- Scaled Composites in concert with SpaceDev, win the Federal Bid to construct the Space Shuttle 2. It is an Air launched shuttle similar to a much larger SpaceShipTwo.

31 January 2007- Voyager I takes high resolution images of Alpha Centauri. Though the star is still two light-years away, they are able to make out a distortion on Centauri B's light. It is a small planet roughly the size of Earth.

7 March 2007_ Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson, running on a strong pro-Colonization Platform, wins the democratic nomination and is highly favored to win the Presidency.

16 January 2009- The Minerva space vehicle enters Martian orbit with its crew of 100, it is the largest spacecraft ever. Its shuttles land on the surface and begin moving the new colonists to the Chryse colony. Recently colonists have begun extracting methane from under Martian soil, leading many Natural Gas companies to lobby for additional funding for NASA.

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