Mars, otherwise known as the Red Planet, is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System after Mercury.
NASA was the first to set up a permanent base on Mars in 2021 called "Chryse Base", with the ESA and SovOil following suit and building "Isidis Base" in 2022 as well as establishing a Martian colonial government. In 2023, NASA had started offering regular flights to Mars every 14 months.
As the planet which most resembles Earth within the Solar System, Mars still presents major differences, Its outer crust is solid, and a large portion of the inner mantles appeared to have coiled, resulting in extremely low magnetic activity. Mars is still actively volcanic and the lack of moving tectonic plates allows volcanoes, once they occur, to reach sizes many times larger than on Earth. Many of these volcanoes arise in an area known as the "Tharsis region" and the largest, Olympus Mons, is over 550km across and 24km high. By comparison the largest volcano on Earth is 120km across at its base and rises 9km above the ocean floor. Valles Marineris at 4000km long, 600km wide, and 6km deep, is a gully that would stretch from LA to New York City on Earth.
Many surface areas of Mars show clear signs of water erosion and suggest that huge volumes of water once coursed across the planet's surface; however, there are now few visible signs of this water. Mars has little remaining atmosphere as most of the atmospheric gases were long ago absorbed into carbonated rocks and, as the planet cooled, the water was deposited as ice within the thick outer crust. Because there is no shielding ozone, the surface receives more solar UV than Earth, despite its greater distance away.
The Martian surface is thick with dust which is, at times, raised into dust storms that can cover the entire planet's surface and make travelling extremely hazardous, cutting off the sun for days at a time. Some areas are highly volcanic, while others consist of huge craters from meteor impacts which cause sections of the surface dust, lubricated by trapped water ice, to flow outward forming large depressions.
During winter the polar caps consist of large areas of frozen C02. During summer the carbon dioxide escapes into the atmosphere to leave a residual cap of polar water ice, a clear indication that much water (and atmosphere) is trapped within the planet's surface. This fact has long excited scientists and, with the construction of two major colonies on the Martian surface, several teams are studying the feasibility of gradually releasing more of the trapped gasses to revitalize the Martian atmosphere.
Mars is accompanied by two small moons, Phobos and Diemos. Both ESA and NASA have installed small, manned installations on these tiny moons to monitor orbital communications. Use of space on the moons has become an early point of conjecture between the major players in the Martian colonization efforts, with ESA, NASA and JAB all claiming rights to some or all of the moons' surfaces. So far the issue hasn't been contested too hotly; however, with only a limited amount of room available, the battle may still be joined.
Mars is on its way to becoming a stable human outpost and its orbital space is becoming cluttered with dozens of man-made satellites and autofactories. The colonies at Chryse and Isidis Planitias are both expanding rapidly and a constant stream of new arrivals bolsters their numbers.
There is one further aspect of the colonization of Mars: Early unmanned probes and NASA "fly-bys" showed several curious formations which appeared somewhat "unnatural." The two most obvious artifacts were the "Cydonia Face," a strangely shaped mountain which appeared to the cameras to be shaped like a human (or near-human) face, and a series of highly regular formations which suggested they may have been shaped purposefully. It was expected that closer inspection would show both of these, and other, phenomena to have been formed naturally. However, research teams from both colonies have studied the formations in detail and have been unable to provide convincing evidence of either natural or intelligent mechanisms having created them. Indeed, NASA's file on these reports remains classified.