About the project and workshop

After decades of debate, interplanetary travel and Mars settlement have recently come back onto the global science, exploration, and geopolitical agenda. This project, the result of seed funding for a range of projects focusing on Mars settlement, aims to discuss ideas of Mars settlement from a variety of perspectives. Several countries and technology corporations have actively explored the idea of Mars exploration or even settlement – not to mention science fiction authors and others who have creatively explored the idea of approaching and settling another planet.

Many current plans and ideas are rooted in the idea that Mars exploration and settlement has to be, by definition, experimental. This is because settling Mars, or even visiting the planet, is an enterprise which features multiple unknowns  – and not just technically or in psychological terms. Settling Mars raises all sorts of philosophical, ethical, logistical, and environmental questions that need to be tackled before any manned mission lands on the planet’s surface.

This project begins at this point – the point of asking questions about Mars settlement, and taking the idea of settlement seriously – and aims to contribute to a developing conversation of how to conceive of human settlement on Mars. Specifically, the thinking that has informed the workshop has been influenced by:

a.) The notion of Mars settlement as exploratory, experimental settlement. There are several examples, on Earth, of small, semi-autonomous settlements being set up and operated. A key example of this is Antarctic exploration bases, which have evolved over the past 100+ years. What can be learned from the Antarctic base experience? How are bases usefully regulated and operated? Are there any lessons that can be drawn from Antarctic bases, and can they be applied to Mars settlements? Are there any other examples of experimental settlements on Earth which could yield useful insights when designing a Mars settlement mission?

Above: Concept for Mars settlement (1) (left); South Africa’s SANAE IV Antarctic base (2) (right)

b.) Environmental issues. Settling Mars opens up a Pandora’s box of issues in environmental ethics. How should Mars be considered, in environmental terms? As a protected environmental zone? And how would this impact on potential plans for settlement and other (industrial, economic, and other) activities? Again, how can we learn from, say, Antarctic bases, and how can we learn from, say, the Antarctic Treaty and other international environmental agreements? Should any settlement mission be preceded by an international environmental agreement?

c.) How can we think about the political and geopolitical regulation of Mars? Currently, in Antarctica, different countries have their own areas of interest. Should the same system be replicated in the case of Mars settlement, and why? What pitfalls can be avoided through acknowledging and taking account of current experience? And if international bases are to be set up, how should these be governed and regulated? How will geopolitical conflicts and tensions on Earth manifest in a Mars base setting? And at what point should a Mars settlement consider itself independent of Earth – politically, technically, logistically? Or is Mars to be considered a 21st century version of a colony, with all the issues that that brings with it?

d.) There have been multiple visions of Mars settlement and interplanetary exploration produced by a range of agencies, corporations, writers, artists, filmmakers, and others over the past few decades. A key psycho-artistic question to ask is to what extent are current plans determined by past visions, and to what extent are current plans attempts to re-enact previous visions? Should these visions be more critically questioned?

The workshop will be a forum for informal discussions on how recent plans to set up human Mars missions, and eventual Mars settlements, can be informed by Earth-based experience with, among other things: experimental and exploration settlements (such as Antarctic bases), international conservation treaties, the history of science, technology and exploration, and other themes.

The project is funded by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Settlement Challenge (MBR Space Settlement Challenge), a global grant fund to support preliminary research into ambitious ideas and concepts that unlock the future of human space habitation. The United Arab Emirates is committed to accelerating the global development of space exploration and space habitation through several space-related initiatives, including UAE Mars City (see a VR tour of an imagined settlement here) and the Mars 2117 Project. The MBR Space Settlement Challenge is the latest of the efforts to accelerate humankind’s path to space. The Challenge is launched by the newly created Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Accelerated Research (MBR Center for Accelerated Research) in Dubai, an initiative of the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF).

The space race calls for hard work, research, and creativity. It requires us all to work together to achieve what no country alone has accomplished so far: landing a person on the red planet, building a city on the moon, and far beyond,” said UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, “The Mohammed bin Rashid Global Space Challenge is an open and sincere invitation to all scientists and experts to join the efforts to help humanity reach the stars.”


(1) Image by Dr. Ross Hofmeyr – see here

(2) Image by NASA/Clouds AO/SEArch – https://www.nasa.gov/feature/langley/a-new-home-on-mars-nasa-langley-s-icy-concept-for-living-on-the-red-planet, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66871595


Notes for workshop participants

We ask that all participants to the workshop contribute in two ways: we will ask all participants to provide a 2-page ‘ideas statement’ prior to the workshop – these will be circulated to all participants. We will then ask each participant to present their ideas, and to participate in panels and group discussion. The workshop is informal, and we expect the group to be small – a maximum of around 20 people.

We expect the workshop’s main output to be a short report, to be forwarded to our funder. Although we envisage the report to be multi-authored, participants have right to be omitted from this output if they so choose. The report will also be published on this site.


The lead organiser, Prof. Federico Caprotti of the University of Exeter, is a geographer working on urban futures. He is interested in sustainable cities and the green economy, and has worked on nature and the city from a historical and visual viewpoint, and more recently he has focused on eco-city and smart city projects in China and the EU. At Exeter, he leads the ‘Smart Eco-Cities for a Green Economy (SMART-ECO)’ research consortium: this involves researchers in the UK, the Netherlands, France, Germany and China. SMART-ECO is funded by the ESRC, China’s NSFC, and the national research funding agencies of France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Federico also leads an ESRC Urban Transformations project on energy transitions in South African municipalities.

He has previously lectured at the universities of Leicester, Oxford, UCL, and Plymouth. Prior to joining Exeter as associate professor in human geography, Federico was senior lecturer and then reader in cities and sustainability at King’s College London. Federico holds a bachelor’s and doctoral degree from Oxford University, is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Since 2016 he has been a Fellow of the Institute of Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, and in 2018-2020 he is a fellow of the Alan Turing Institute, London, working on issues connected with smart urban governance. In 2017, a paper he was lead author on was named as one of the 25 most significant papers published in the past 40 years in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

We also take the opportunity to thank the University of Exeter for their coordination and resources.


Workshop: Timing & Logistics


The event will be held on 10 December 2018 between 10am and 5pm. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to the start of the day.

The workshop will be catered, but we would be glad if you could also join us for an informal group dinner on the evening of 10 December – the venues will be confirmed closer to the workshop date.


The closest airport is London City Airport. However, London Heathrow and Gatwick Airport offer good international connections as well.

Travelling to the UK

For those attending from outside the UK, we are happy to offer to cover your travel to and from London (economy class air, standard advance rail). Up to two nights’ accommodation near the workshop venue may be provided. Once attendance is confirmed, we will book your travel and accommodation accordingly.


Workshop: Location


The workshop will be held at The Crystal, located next to London’s Royal Docks, providing a striking contrast to London’s surrounding skyline.

The Crystal is a future cities-focused exhibition space, run by Siemens. It is one of the world’s most sustainable buildings, due to its sustainable design and construction. The Crystal is an all-electric building that uses solar power and a ground source heat pump to generate its own energy. It showcases state-of-the-art technologies to make buildings more efficient and also profiles Siemens’ Environmental Portfolio.

Risultati immagini per the crystal london

The building incorporates rainwater harvesting, black water treatment, solar heating and automated building management systems. The award winning architects Wilkinson Eyre designed the building, drawing inspiration from the many sides of a crystal.



The workshop is funded by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Settlement Challenge (MBR Space Settlement Challenge). MBR is a global grant fund that aims to support preliminary research into ambitious ideas and concepts that unlock the future of human space habitation.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Global Space Challenge is designed to attract the best minds from all over the world, from a variety of disciplines, backgrounds and origins. It’s the first and only global platform for funding unconventional solutions and novel proposals from all sources to unlock the future of space settlement; that’s why we are so excited for you to join!