The idea of colonizing Mars was always a dream of people on Earth. Though many would rationalize it by way of thinking the Earth would go to shit and we would need to move on. This idea was, of course, absurd; they weren’t going to fuck up the planet enough to make it easier to move to a new one than to sustain the population where it already was. Yet they still continued on this mission, perhaps to compensate from some insecurity they had with the development of humanity at the time, or simply to satisfy a scientific curiosity as to whether or not such a conflicted species could collectively accomplish such an extreme goal. Regardless, they did manage it.
Only by some absurd, capitalist pipe dream did it ever happen though. Privatized space exploration was able to market itself off of the pure novelty of leaving a world riddled with superficiality to land on another world for nothing but superficial reasons and make trillions off of doing so. Of course, one could argue that the technological advancements that were made along the way were well worth it. In fact, I would normally be a great fan of creating arbitrary goals to reach for only the sake of the benefits that would come along with the means by which one takes. However, in this particular instance the goal was perhaps an end that in many instances may have counteracted said benefits of the means. This is, of course, a digression I make to set the tone for my beliefs on the matter in general, and is perhaps influences heavily by a bias I have grown by having been raised on this horrid planet.
Arguably the greatest achievement of the research that went into this interplanetary frontier was the warp drive. Historically there has always been a defense of space programs based on the idea that technologies created to survive in space have many great applications for your average person, be it safety equipment in transportation or new clothing materials that allow one to live in harsher climates without having to be a body builder in order to comfortably wear the required clothing. The warp drive, however, has exactly one plausible and peaceful use: to travel in space without requiring months, years, or even decades to reach a destination.
The fundamental problem with long range space travel is accumulating speed. There is a lot of science behind engines that work in space, typically creating systems that are, in essence, just a constant explosion of matter whose force is directed in a given direction so as to have the craft move in the opposing direction. Such systems have the limitation of the amount of power that is able to be produced being based on the amount of stored energy in your fuel; there is also the fact that your fuel will need to be stored on board and therefore contribute extra mass that will force you to create more momentum to achieve the same amount of thrust you would get without it. Even if you are capable of creating an ultra-efficient fuel compound and thrusting system there is a universal speed limit: the speed of light. Special relativity is very clear that nothing in spacetime will ever be able to travel faster than light is able to travel. The obvious loophole in that is that nothing within the confines of spacetime is able to travel faster than light, but there is no rule against spacetime itself doing so. Therein lies the basis of a warp drive: moving the space around you rather than moving yourself.
Obviously this is a lot more complicated then blowing stuff up in a desired way, this is manipulating the very form factor of reality, literally bending the universe to your will. The general methodology is the creation of a gradient of spacetime density, putting a ring of high density behind you and one of lower density in front. This is the same idea of how winds are created in an atmosphere: a flow from high to low pressure. Creating the changes in density, which is in this case called York Time, requires a lot of resources, more than anyone believed possible to acquire in any reasonable amount of time just to be able to create one engine, but through the magic that is mathematics, more complicated shapes of the gradient could be created that would require a lot less of this resource. The resource in question being exotic matter, but even the initial requirements of galaxies worth of negative mass were eventually fixed. Anyone planning on using this as an excuse to start some made up manufacturing process for antimatter at a large scale must have been severely disappointed to find out that the issue of what materials were required could also be circumvented by sufficiently sophisticated scientific means. In the end, no exotic matter was required at all, so none was ever made and nobody got to mess around it for some bizarre scientific fetishism.
When stretching space, one would preferably be in a vacuum, somewhere that the edge of your bubble will not touch anything. Crafts with a warp drive, eventually more aptly dubbed an Alcubierre drive after the scientist who pushed the underlying science forward, would use a standard booster in order to leave the Earth’s atmosphere and a regular propulsion system to travel further out and make other maneuvers to land and whatnot.
Now, humans being humans did the obvious thing with a technology that moves one section of space to another place: they built a bomb. It was beautiful, if you can call mass murder that. Where an atomic bomb would obliterate a radius and taper out into irradiated wastelands wherein there would be surviving people whose genetics were completely ruined and would die within a few years of agonizing medical issues, this beast would just rip the world to shreds. It wasn’t something that could readily be tested, most thought it would never be used, and it almost never was. But nonetheless its time came around. Political tensions snapped after overfunded terrorist organizations became empires in their own right and joined the global stage with as much power as any other superpower. Having already fought them for more than a century the United States saw fit to drop one of these on their sacred lands. The first one didn’t work, in the sense that the primary explosive didn’t trigger, though the backup thrown in there just to ensure no foreign powers would just pick it up and reverse engineer it certainly did. After a month of debugging, a second was dropped and a third of the Middle East was thrown into the upper atmosphere, blacking out the sun for nearly a year.
This event had some pretty clear and permanent implications. A few borders were changed purely due to the land not existing there anymore. The redistribution of land lowered the sea level by about as much as it had risen in the fifty years prior to the incident. The Islamic State was forced to surrender and was reorganized into a faux democratic state subjugated by the United States in a manner similar to post-World War II Japan. Ironically, this new country was overtaken by the then booming private space travel industry. It was in a fairly decent location for space ports and it needed to rebuild its economy, so it made sense that they went that route.
The fear that the Earth would be too fucked to recover once again permeated culture. It still made no sense even then. Nobody was ever going to use such a powerful weapon ever again. Perhaps I can only say such things with the confidence of hindsight, but the statements to the contrary at the time were nothing more than propaganda. Regardless, with the possibility of Mars colonization and the fear of Earth’s destruction, all sorts of investment funds popped up to make affordable means by which to move your entire family to another planet.
For the first few major projects, affordable seemed to mean top 10% of the population could do it with half their savings. Using massive transporters that would remain in orbit and collect passengers from small boarding ships, jump to Mars, then use the boarding ships to land them at the colony. There was nothing on Mars, nothing but a small colony called Xanthe, situated in Xanthe Terra at the edge of Simud Vallis. They were planning ahead for a massive terraforming project, one that would put this location at the mouth of a river and a reasonable location for a shipping industry and transportation hub.
What they needed at the time was an even more accessible means of moving to Mars, and a reason to be there aside form it not being Earth. The former came by way of The Terra-Martian Railway (TMR). Clearly, it isn’t a literal railway, but the implementation of an alternative to every single spacecraft having its own Alcubierre drive. Rather than a single engine creating the York Time differences around the ship, a system of stations, called the Ties just to keep with the railway parallel, create it in a path that the craft will slide along. This would then over time lower the cost of travel to the planet, yet the issue of the planets habitability and uselessness still prevailed.
Now, they had to make a spectacle out of this. They deemed it quite inappropriate to redirect resources from Earth to Mars, so they couldn’t just send water along the TMR. No, they waited on Mars colonization for another few centuries, instead focusing on resource collection throughout the Solar System. Most notably was the Europa Mining Corporation. As the technology was available, a colony was set up on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, that served as a storage and housing base for a large mining operation on Jupiter. This would become a considerable source of hydrogen, which they planned to use in the creation of water for the Martian terraforming project.
A competing project that was perhaps significantly more ambitious would have been the water retrieval operation on Uranus. You can’t just land on a gas giant, which is why the industrial bases are always built on a satellite of the planet. Most often, they built colonies on the natural satellites, the moons, of a planet, then would build their own satellites to orbit the planet closer to work as a midpoint for transporting the resources. The water on Uranus is buried deep, surrounding the core, as ice mixed with other frozen resources (ammonia and carbon dioxide, both of which are also valuable in large amounts). This means they can’t just have ships in orbit dip in altitude and skim the surface to collect as they do on Jupiter. Once again the Alcubierre drive comes in, basically working as a core drill that shoots through the planet, where they would rip out the sections they needed before launching it back in. It’s a strange thing to watch, like you know that it’s a massive planet, but you see the videos and it looks more like somebody messing around with a sporting ball. Making an entire world your plaything, just to rip parts of it out and send them elsewhere, it seems so unnatural and yet so fitting.
Terraforming an entire planet is one thing, to do so in a manner that allows for human habitation without any lifestyle changes from how one would do so on Earth is another. See, any satellite of a mass that is in a state of constant fusion within itself is going to have to deal with some of the byproducts. A few of them are nice, like light and heat that can be diffused and distributed amongst a population to allow for life, but others not so much, like massive winds that rip atmospheres out of a planet’s influence. The latter here isn’t a constantly life-threatening issue on Earth as Earth has an electromagnetic field that allows it to block out a good portion of these winds; Mars, however, does not have such a defense, and so could easily lose all progress to terraforming one might have made. One possible solution to this problem is to contain your work in a shell, like a dome or tunnel. Of the two of these, the second is something that has been actually implemented at some points. A tunnel in a torus shape that would rotate with a consistent velocity so that the tilted platforms within would have a simulated gravity similar to that of Earth. For aesthetic purposes, they would build these rings in the sunken terrain of craters.