Significant strides towards the goal of sending humans to Mars have been made over the last few years, not only through advancements in planning and capabilities, but also in the political realm. However, despite this progress, there is a common misperception that there has been little or no motion forward in humanity's efforts and ability to actually achieve this goal.Probably because 'can do' people understand that planning, while useful, is what you do before any moving forward actually occurs. Current plans seem more like, 'running in place and getting nowhere' plans. We can do better by identifying a simple truth: all plans fall short. Plus, we can turn the naysayers to our advantage by making them part of the plan.
The 'just do it' plan is based on the simple observation that all plans should have two major phases. 1) Getting enough supplies to a base location. 2) Only send colonists after enough supplies are waiting.
But how much is enough? What should the mix include? This is where naysayer input is valuable. We aren't going to be able to predict perfectly all the things the colonists are going to need. Humbly acknowledging this means sending less than what is required for survival wastes the entire mission. Sending more is only marginally bad and can't be avoided anyway, so why not embrace it?
We already know how to send stuff to mars, but should lower the cost. What lowers cost? Competition. So let's have one using just a small part of NASA's mars budget. The best part is we can implement this plan today instead of 20 years from now and avoid costly, decade long detours as well.
Every 26 month launch window, NASA will pay for one Falcon Heavy launch to mars. On board will be two 5.5 ton landers, each with a ton of cargo. The lander that safely lands first within a target ellipse gets $50m, the second gets $30m. We do this every launch window until sending colonists becomes irresistible to some private company. Let the naysayers come up with the cargoes.
Let the Russians or Chinese get there first and steal our cargo. It doesn't matter because the point is learning how to survive on mars. We just keep sending cargo. If we have to embarrass ourselves to get our act together, that works. It's also magnitudes cheaper than the progress suggested above.
This also allows NASA to save face regarding SLS/Orion. They can continue telling us Orion will put crew on mars, spending billions, while $200m a year goes unnoticed actually doing the mars mission. We've put rovers on mars costing billions while gaining valuable knowledge. It's time to take a fraction of that cost and actually move forward.