The Mars Underground documentary provides an uplifting overview of the efforts scientists (particularly Dr. Robert Zubrin), made to make colonisation of Mars a reality, starting with the Mars Direct Program (1990). Zubrin recognised that previous long term goals to land humans on Mars were problematic, gauranteeing political failure. Hence in 1990, Zubrin developed the '90 Day Report', proposing a shorter, less costly approach to colonise Mars. Where NASA sought a slower build up, incorporating the International Space Station (ISS) and the Moon, Zubrin sought to bypass that with a one-off Mars mission.
He proposed the mission launch when the Earth-Mars conjunction was at its closest, allowing the shortest trip possible of six months. The manned team would spend a further eighteen months on Mars researching it, before returning to Earth in six months when the planets were aligned again.
Zubrin's proposal was enthusiastically received, but ultimately failed due to feasibility problems with payload being too heavy to allow lift off from Earth. A second opportunity opened up when Zubrin teamed up with Lockheed to develop a new proposal using lighter payloads. It required that rocket fuel be developed on Mars. There would be two missions: one unmanned to research the feasibility for humans to conduct a long term mission; and a second mission that would follow some two and a half years later. Again, while initially supported by NASA, it was ultimately derailed by departments that were identified as not useful to the program, such as the ISS. Zubrin, to this day remains a vocal advocate for the colonisation of Mars through his work as founder and president of The Mars Society.
The documentary served as a useful example of how popular programs could ultimately be derailed by politics. Circumstances have changed since the 1990s as private enterprises such as SpaceX help drive the agenda to colonise Mars, but it serves as a reminder of the many challenges facing those who choose to change human ambitions to voyage beyond Earth. In my next novel, Sentient, I predict colonisation begins in the late 21st century, but it may turn out happening long before then if entrepreneurs like Musk succeed in their objectives.