Blue Dragon: Crew Selection

Crew size

The Mars Semi-Direct and NASA DRA architectures specify a crew of six, although the Mars Direct and Mars-Oz architectures require only four. Although it may be possible that a smaller crew – even as small as 2 people, as is being proposed for the Inspiration Mars flyby – may theoretically suffice, Blue Dragon is currently intended for six. There are a variety of reasons for this:

  1. It’s about as large a crew as we can handle while keeping the mission achievable and affordable.
  2. A crew of six permits a dedicated crew member for the most crucial functions, while also allowing for a degree of redundancy in skill coverage.
  3. The NASA DRA, on which Blue Dragon is based, has been designed around a crew of 6. The assumption here is that the NASA DRA has had more thought put into it than any other Mars mission architecture, and we can benefit by leveraging this work.
  4. A single Bigelow Aerospace BA-330 module, which we’re planning to use for the Abeona (the MTV, or Mars Transfer Vehicle), is designed to support 6 people.
  5. The SpaceX DragonRider capsule, which we’re using to ferry the crew between Earth/Mars surface and orbit, is designed for 7 people. Therefore, it should be big enough for 6 crew in spacesuits.
  6. It permits flexibility with team configurations.

Point 4 is important. If our intention is to use a BA-330 for Abeona, and it will support 6, then to design the mission for less would be inefficient. What we have to check here, however, is the volume that will be required for stores; however, 330m3 should be ample, considering that the bare minimum volume per person considered necessary for a space mission is just 10m3.

Why not five, or three, or seven people? The Apollo crews had three members. There’s one main advantage to having an odd number of people in the crew: it means that you never get a tied vote. However, it also means you can’t use the buddy system:

The Buddy System
The buddy system is something kids learn in school, but is also a pretty good idea for H2M (Humans to Mars) missions. It means, everyone works in pairs. Your partner is your “buddy”, and it’s their job to watch your back and make sure you don’t get shot by a laser, step on a scorpion, fall into a collapsed lava tube or forget to take your meds, as the case may be. In turn, you do the same for them.

Naturally, the crew will not always be able to all work together. However, for safety and psychological reasons we may want to avoid any crew member being left alone; at least, they shouldn’t work alone.

Within the buddy system, six people can be organised as:

  • Three teams of two
  • Two teams of three
  • One team of four and one of two

This flexibility can be useful when organising shifts, EVAs, and chores, and it means no-one works alone and safety is optimised.

With a three person crew, either the three would always stay together, or people would work alone, compromising safety. With a four person crew, the only team configuration available is two pairs of two. While this might be acceptable, we have capacity for more and a crew of six offers greater advantages.

I’m not saying a crew of 3 wouldn’t work, by the way. Apollo crews were 3 people, and Apollo was the most successful space program in history. But we’re not talking about 3 days on the Moon but 1.5 years on Mars. There is a lot more to do, and we need the extra people.

International astronauts

Perhaps somewhat idealistically, it’s my view that Mars is for all humanity; therefore, the crew should ideally be international. My goal for the Tiw Program is to develop it within an international Mars Consortium.

The first H2M mission will be the one history remembers, and it’s my opinion that the four major space agencies with human spaceflight capability should be represented, each by one astronaut:

  • United States
  • Russia
  • Europe
  • China

Actually, the fact that only four countries have human spaceflight capability could be put forward as a possible reason for having a crew of only four. It seems nice and neat. But it’s not a great reason.

The remaining two slots would represent “the rest of the world”, and would be selected from candidates from Japan, India, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand or elsewhere. As to who gets selected, this will probably result from a balance between who are the best candidates, and which countries will pony up the dough to support the mission.

Astronaut roles

The crew on this mission will be required to fill a large number of occupations; in fact, far more than six. Furthermore, all occupations are so crucial to the mission that they require redundant backups. Therefore each astronaut on the mission must be trained in multiple roles.

The crew is fundamentally comprised of three engineers plus three scientists:

Flight Engineer/Pilot/Commander

This person will be responsible for understanding, operating and maintaining the habitat and various spacecraft, liaising with Mission Operations on Earth, and making executive decisions.

Colour:  White 

Mechatronics and Communications Engineer

Mechatronics engineering is uniquely multi-disciplinary, combining mechanical, electronic, computer and software engineering. Since much of the hardware used in the mission will be computerised, robotic or mechatronic in nature, it will be invaluable to have a crew member that can understand, program and repair such equipment. This role will include responsibility for all computers and mechatronic hardware, including flight computers, on-board computers in the rover, robotic arms, multimedia/web servers, personal computers, and more. They will also be responsible for all communications hardware used in space and on Mars.

Colour:  Blue 

Chemical Engineer

This person is responsible for operating, maintaining and repairing all chemical engineering hardware in the habitat and various spacecraft, including fuel systems, ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilisation) systems, life support and environment control systems, waste disposal systems and plumbing.

Colour:  Purple 

Planetary Scientist

This role combines geology, planetary science, astronomy and cartography. On the surface of Mars they will study areology, areomorphology, areochemistry, areography, etc., and in space they will perform Earth, Mars and astronomical observation. They will be responsible for any telescopes used in space and on Mars.

Colour:  Red 


This role combines astrobiologist and horticulturalist, and will include searching for and (if found) examining extant life on the surface of Mars, and conducting experiments (for example, with food production) in Abeona and in the greenhouse on Mars.

Colour:  Green 

Medical and Safety Officer

The main responsibility of this person will be to keep the crew alive and healthy. This important role combines ship’s doctor, personal trainer, psychologist, and safety officer. It will include monitoring crew health and effects of micro-gravity and radiation, pushing fellow crew members through daily exercise routines, providing nutritional advice, administering medications and treatments, monitoring psychological health of the crew and providing counselling if needed, monitoring solar flares and conducting safety drills, and developing safety protocols and ensuring they’re followed.

Colour:  Yellow 

Note: If it is considered necessary to reduce the crew size, one idea would be to combine the Biologist and Medical Officer roles, since these roles overlap in skill-set and knowledge to some degree. However, this would be quite a lot for one person to take on, even a Mars astronaut.


When first designing this crew, I was tempted to include a dedicated journalist or multimedia engineer, whose responsibility would be documentation and communications, including photography, videography, blogging, interviews and other forms of reporting. This would tremendously valuable to an H2M mission, as it will greatly increase engagement with the public (i.e. viewing audience) on Earth. This will help to justify the cost of the mission, improve revenues (if that should be important), and generate a higher volume of feedback and good wishes for the crew, thus improving morale and reducing feelings of isolation.

However, as ideal as it might be to have a dedicated journalist, it is hard to justify against the other more crucial roles. The alternative, which might in fact produce a better result if executed successfully, is to train all crew members in basic journalism. Another approach would be to assign journalism duties to the Planetary Scientist and/or Biologist during the space travel stages of the mission, since they may not be able to do much science during that time. The two scientists could share the responsibility once on the surface, or all the crew members could engage in daily or weekly reporting of their individual activities.

Colour coding

Once the crew has been selected, they are each assigned a unique, distinct colour, which is theirs until the end of the mission. These colours are used for everything that belongs to that astronaut – their bunk, spacesuit, special meals, clothes packs, towels – everything. Everyone in the crew will learn everyone’s colours.

Apart from the advantages of not mixing up your towel or your piss funnel with someone else’s, one of the primary advantages of having distinct spacesuit colours is that it will be easy to identify who’s who during EVA, when it will be hard to see each other’s faces or bodies. Brown, orange and pink are excluded due to similarity with local colours on the Mars surface. Red should be ok, since, despite Mars being known as the “red planet”, there’s not a lot of actual red in the landscape, and there should still be enough contrast with the ochre shades of Mars. Black spacesuits would not be a good choice for a spacewalk!

White Unique colour, comprised of all others combined. Associated with purity and kindness, it belongs to the mission commander.
Blue The colour associated with communications belongs to the mechatronics/communications engineer.
Purple The colour of magic and alchemy belongs to the chemical engineer.
Red As we’re going to the red planet, this colour belongs to the planetary scientist.
Green The colour of life and growth naturally belongs to the biologist.
Yellow The colour for happiness and safety belongs to the medical/safety officer.

I like to read, write, teach, travel, code, lift weights, play music, listen to music, make things out of wood, watch scifi movies, and play board games and computer games. My interests are broad, spanning science, engineering, architecture, technology, nutrition, environment, psychology, health, fitness, finance, business, and economics, but my main passions are spirituality, space settlement, and veganism. My ambition is to be a successful writer and speaker, and to create a company to produce awesome science fiction books, movies, and games that inspire people about the future. Eventually, I would also like to create vegan cafes and urban farms.

Posted in IMRS, Mars

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