I'm into third season now and apart from whole bunch of really, really stupid meme stuff (would use a different word, but...), which I can't peg as inattention to detail or sloppy writing, there is one really big thing that bugs me.

Specifically, how Mars can be even in the very loud shouting distance, much less competing with Earth as an economic and military power? I get that there was a rebellion there, and Mars won (or "won"), and ultimately MCR took over infrastructure built by Earth, but really... Even in own terms of the show, Mars should be for several centuries at the level of the Belt colonies. I get that they have been seeded by Earth, got a huge kickstart, but in economics there is simply no substitute for workforce and accumulation of wealth, so how Mars has either?

Especially since they seem to be easily able to field large military (navy and infantry, including marines), capable of projecting force across the system no problem? I seem to be either missing something or it's too early in the show?

After reading posted numerous answers (and they are mostly very fine answers, thanks!!) the main objection I have is still unresolved. Let me restate it so that it is clear what it is.

I understand that Mars is not Earth, both socially and politically. It is a relatively new nation AND country AND state, that derives it's cohesion, stability and strength from convictions of majority (if not all) inhabitants. This goes a long, long way towards rapid expansion, growth and emergence of society.

But there are limits to what morale and willingness to work hard can do , especially when it comes to resources and infrastructure. To build something you have to have, besides construction material, either large labor force or very advanced technology. There is a reason why there are construction machines by the boatload on every large construction site - it replaces mass of un-skilled or low-skilled workers in carrying out basic tasks (like digging, carrying etc). Yes, one can accomplish more if one is willing to work more, but there are limits to that, especially if it's manual labor. Not always working twice as long yields twice the output...

However, Mars is unlike Earth in one other respect: it is not Earth-like world. So ANY activities are carried out either in ESA (Extra Shelter Activity - similarity to EVA intended) or in an sealed environment. Either one requires significant initial investment (though latter much bigger), with ESA basically requiring use of machines specifically designed for the environment, as well as highly skilled and motivated labor force. Latter would require an insanely expensive dome to seal area large enough to allow work without protection. Though Mars has some atmosphere that does not require same level of protection as exo-atmospheric EVA, it has no meaningful magnetosphere, requiring EVERYTHING to be more robust and have better protection than anything on Earth. Regardless of option, initial investment is astronomical... Machines, any construction material beyond most basic ones, workforce must be sourced off-world. Someone has to pay for it. People require food, air and water which, beyond certain levels, cannot be locally sourced. They also need shelter, which is another huge capital investment. At this level labor force needs to be specialized, which requires large population to support it (if someone is building shelter, cannot grow one's food, source water and air etc.), But large population on Mars requires LARGE infrastructure. AND it STILL needs off-world supplies.

In other words: on Mars, you have to continually build first, then expand. Even if terraforming was progressing along expansion, it still needs TIME in addition to resources. And a lot of time and resources, because Mars is a DEAD planet.

In order for Mars to be technologically superior to Earth, it requires superior scientific and technological base. Those in turn require MASSIVE EXCESS in both population and resources.

So here's the conundrum: in order for Mars to have significant technological superiority, population and resources excess for it must first exist. For that excess to exist, significant fraction of the population and infrastructure must be bot redirected from terraforming and expansions efforts, AS WELL AS there needs to be significant industrial capacity in place to take advantage of it. This industrial base doesn't have to be planet-side, but it STILL requires either external acquisition or internal expenditure to build. That industrial base requires raw materials. And mining is one of the most labor-intensive activities - so yet again there is a need for dedicated population and infrastructure.

Best example of similar problems in similar scale would be USSR during WWII. German invasion deprived it of about 70% of the industry base (yes, yes famous move of factories beyond Ural - true, but when moved those factories produced squat and they needed about 18 months to be back in action), over 50% of the population and subsequently about 40% reduction of workforce, over 50% of food-producing land and loss of access to strategic resources. At the same time Germany had double the poplulation available, food production, though reduced some would be there and intact industry. USSR was able to held basically by throwing a lot of lives to the front lines, as well as both equip and feed them (and the remaining population) to large extent thanks to lend-lease program. Soviets could deprioritize fuel production, mining, food production in order to restore industrial capacity and field large army.

Mars should not be able to do that because, in essence Mars is not Earth, same rules do not apply. And for almost half of it's entire existence it wasn't, according to several answers. And yet it the end could do it, seemingly. I see no way how, though.

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    Mars is rich in useful elements and they are more accessible than on Earth: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Once Mars became independent, they may have been able to quickly build an economy since belters and earthers need those resources and they may have grown scarce and difficult to mine on Earth. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 12:36
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    Question would be improved by removing ranting portions.
    – Lexible
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 16:14
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    Mars didn't have to beat Earth so much as they just had to avoid being beaten by Earth, which would have almost certainly involved an outrageously expensive invasion and occupation.
    – chepner
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 16:50
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    Also, I can't vouch for the accuracy of this page, but it states the population of Mars is four billion (books) or nine billion (show), which is in line with what I remembered reading in one of the books.
    – chepner
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 19:15
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    I don't see any sloppy writing. Any kind of politics and/or social behavior that affects economical development are highly non-linear. As a progressive person, I believe that simply removing the wealth accumulation interests of the ruling elite from current Earth politics, the world could improve tenfold in 10 years.
    – lvella
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 23:00

6 Answers 6



Mars has fewer ships than earth but their technology is more advanced compared to Earth's ships. So, it's really like a quality vs. quantity thing. Same with the infantry. Mars is aware that they have fewer infantry men but the ones they have are equipped superbly; e.g. Bobby Draper (she's top notch).


Mars has a common goal to make their planet habitable, everybody is working and basically nobody is unemployed. While Earth has way more resources in terms of manpower, they also have a very high unemployment rate and have to spend considerable resources to simply feed people not working. This problem on Earth is so gigantic, that people that want to study, first have to work for a year in any job to prove that they are willing to work before being allowed into a university.


Earth could probably crush Mars in an economic sense, also due to the fact that Mars is still purchasing air from Earth in order to survive. However, it is more of a cold war than a real war and they compete but don't try to annihilate each other. In a military sense, it is unclear who would win. Mars with their fewer but better ships or Earth with a bigger number. However, when Bobby Draper is on Earth, she wonders if Mars could ever win a ground battle on Earth as there are simply too many humans on Earth and they could crush any invading Mars force by sheer numbers, even if Mars deploys their best tech and Earth only has sticks and stones.

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    Never seen the show nor read the books, but heard it praised for its realism, so how could any soldier born and grown on Mars hope to fight in a battle on Earth? Mars' gravity is lower than Earth's (38%, just over 1/3) meaning that any (natural born) Martian coming to Earth would likely fall prone due to way too low bone density. The fittest might be able to stand (which would be incredibly taxing and probably painful), but they couldn't fight. The reverse would also be true: Earthers invading Mars could carry heavier loads or run faster without penalty in comparison...
    – BMWurm
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 13:10
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    @AcePL Check Osteo-X expanse.fandom.com/wiki/Osteo-X This together with muscle strength drugs, they have comparable strength like humans from earth. How you figure that they have unhealthy living conditions on Mars? When you continue watching, you'll see that Mars is very clean compared to Earth.
    – Shade
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 16:30
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    @AcePL The term you’re looking for is “hard science fiction,” because sci-fi, in general, can absolutely require suspension of disbelief. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 3:51
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    @AcePL There's a reason they add that "fiction" part to the name of the genre. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 16:43
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    @AcePL If you want answers to all these questions and more, you should really read the books. The show skims over a lot of these details. As a quick example for one of your concerns, body shapes; the books describe Martians as taller and lankier than Earthers, and Belters much more so. But, the show just doesn't have the budget for that much constant CGI, so it has to be toned down to just a couple specific characters/scenes.
    – Josh Eller
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 14:55

The Expanse Wiki (not an ideal source I know) makes the development of the Epstien Drive look like the key turning point.

Eventually, in the 23nd century, the colonial government that administered humanity's first colony demanded that they be independent. The United Nations, reticent to cede their control over Mars, refused. It was only thanks to Solomon Epstein Books • TV and his groundbreaking invention, the Epstein drive, that war was avoided. The colonial government offered the UN access to the revolutionary drive in exchange for independence. To avoid Mars having a tactical advantage, the UN agreed.

So my understanding of this is that economical exploitation of the resources of the whole Solar System only became viable once the Epstein drive became available. And Mars owned the Epstein technology. Both Earth and Mars were essentially resetting their economies from exploitation of local resources to exploitation of space based resources. And while independence was the main goal of the exchange, Mars would have needed to include additional financial/technical payments to ensure that independence wasn't quickly revoked.

  • I am aware of Epstein drive and it's advantage. And no, it still would not explain how a colony that was built from grounds up just 100 years prior could offer any viable resistance. Colony like Mars needs to invest in it's infrastructure: mining, refining, transportation, housing, food, energy, manufacturing (both civ and military), standing army, all the while growing like crazy. Even if every colonist brought it's own wealth and invested in Mars it would only cause inflation, because they don't take their houses, cars, boats, furniture from Earth to Mars... Obviously.
    – AcePL
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 13:21
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    @AcePL while I'm not defending any implausible points - I note the United States went from a settlement in the woods to a global superpower in only 300 years. (With a lot of outside investment of course.) That 100 years for Mars may have been very productive. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 18:30
  • @lucasbachmann Totally agree, but you can't draw direct parallels between Mars and US. it is very helpful, I agree. What I have problem is the fact that if you emigrate to US, if you don't have a home to move into, you can buy a tent and live in it for a while, you can scavenge for food and water. All that is impossible on Mars, and habitat there will not be made of rubber, you will not be able to stretch it at will... Not to mention distance - trip Earth to Mars would not be cheap nor quick for any time before Epstein.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 0:35
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    The Epstein drive shortens travel time and makes warfare hugely asymmetrical. It's like the US having modern ship propulsion during the American Revolution with the British still using sailing ships. Earth ships on a Hohman transfer are essentially immobile during most of their flight and can be trivially intercepted by Mars, who can deploy their entire fleet for essentially every engagement Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 23:30
  • @thegreatemu - And that would be an instant winner, but at some point Mars turned that tech over. My question pertains to the period covered by the series, where I can't see of a way Mars and Earth can compete on more or less equal terms... 200 years is much too short of a time for Mars to develop sufficient population and industrial base needed for that competition, especially with Mars being very inhospitable environment, which I estimate would siphon off at least 35%-45% of all resources available. That's serious handicap slowing everything else down A LOT.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 8:55

Let's split this question a bit:

How Mars can compete Military with Earth:

There is this fragment in the short story Drive that tells the story of Samuel Epstein, who tells about the current situation between Mars and Earth. Epstein compares Mars to Germany during WWII:

Germany had all the best science, just like us. They had the best tech. They had rockets. No one had rockets, but they did. Nazi tanks could destroy allied tanks at something like five to one. They had the best attack submarines, drone missiles, and early jet aircraft. They were just that much better. Better designed, better manufactured. They were elegant and they were smart. [...] But they lost. They had all the best tech, just like we do. And they lost.”
“Because they were psychopathic and insane,” Julio said.
“No,” Solomon said. “I mean, they were, but there have been a lot of fascist psychopaths that didn’t lose wars. They lost because even though one of their tanks was worth five of the other guys, America could build ten. The industrial base was huge, and if the design wasn’t as good, who cared? Earth has that industrial base. They have people. It could take them months, maybe years, to get here, but when they did, it would be in numbers we couldn’t handle. Being technically advanced is great, but we’re still just building better ones of the stuff that came before. If you want to overcome the kind of demographic advantage Earth has, you’ll need something paradigm-shiftingly **

So you can see from this fragment that Mars has a much higher technology level compared to Earth, but this is offset by the sheer quantity of the amount of production capacity available to Earth. So in case of a non-nuclear war, Mars would eventually lose, but it would be long and painful for both sides. In the case of nuclear war, we most likely have the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine, similar to one during the Cold War.

How Mars has achieved this advantage?

Here I can't find the correct quote, but the reason is twofold:

  1. Government: Mars is an efficient militarised technocracy*. This means that everyone works in a place where they are doing the best for the planet. This means that even a relatively small amount of the population is very productive as a whole, at the cost of certain freedoms. In contrast, Earth is drowning in unemployment, which puts a huge strain on the government budget.

  2. Population: As stated above, most of the people on Earth are unemployed and rather uneducated. In contrast, Mars has been initially populated by the best and brightest Earth had to offer - it had to be this way or the whole colonisation project would fail. With such a huge genetic advantages and easy access to education, constant need to improvise and improve, it is not hard to see how Mars came to achieve a serious technological advantage.

* Technocracy is a form of government in which the decision-maker or makers are selected based on their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge

** It seems that there is a huge discussion about "how Epstein is wrong because US/USSR/Whoever had better technology". That's not the point here - the point is that indeed overall Russians were losing about 4 tanks for every 1 German tank destroyed (the US ratio is similar with about 5 Shermans lost for each German tank).

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    Well, the quote would work as in-world explanation, but it's factually incorrect in almost every point. As far as efficient militarised technocracy - this is an oxymoron. Might as well put communism in there and you'd not miss much. It could work on small scale, but. at some point the management layer would be bigger than production... Maybe it would work in-world, but not plausible in any other scenario.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 0:52
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    @AcePL I'm not sure is that such an oxymoron - a working example was better explained in Heinlein's Starship Troopers. But the base idea has a chance to work here, since your work is responsible (quite literally) for a lot of lives, and from a young age you are taught about sense of duty and chain of command. The emigration caused by the Ring has doomed Mars, since they were lacking enough workers - people were leaving, because they had other option than doing what they were told to.
    – Yasskier
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 3:37
  • Consider that Mars, not Earth, produced one Winston Duarte. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 16:49
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica I'm not so sure if it is a great comparison: Sparta was a slavering country with about 7 Helots (basically slaves) for each Spartan. Mars is built on the respect for the military tradition and the "sacrifice for the nation" but it has no exploited population - it seems that even those on the social bottom are relatively well-off.
    – Yasskier
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 23:45
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    @AndrewHenle I can see that this discussion has totally diverged in the wrong direction. Just to add one more comment then: Yes, T-34 was overall a better tank than for example overly complicated Tiger, but all in all, the loss ratio of tanks was about 1 German for every 4 Russian, (1:7 in1941) which is what Epstein says in the quote above en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equipment_losses_in_World_War_II#Land
    – Yasskier
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 19:38

In the books Earth is much less united and focused than Mars and suffers from a lot of unemployment, inequality and environmental damage.

Mars on the other hand has the “benefit” of being united under the common goal of terraforming with a focus on science and technology.

To me it sadly seems somewhat realistic. On our real world Earth people in developed countries care much more about being able to afford a haircut or a big car than they care about the militaristic or scientific endeavors of their nations. We don’t even manage to stabilize or reduce our CO2 emissions.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. I feel like this is part of a good answer, but doesn't really explain how Mars, with the demands of expansion, industrialization and terraforming, has the capacity to compete with Earth in terms of military expenditures. (Not just locally; the nascent USA was able to defeat the British Empire locally, but took a century or more to be able to project comparable military might externally.)
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 19:44
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    @DavidW He could be a bit more verbose, but it does have the answer: it's less about how Mars can manage to do it and more about how Earth is sufficiently messed up internally that a planet like Mars ends up being competitive. i.e. it's not "what did Mars do right" so much as "what did Earth do wrong".
    – JamieB
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 21:25
  • @JamieB The point is to encourage development of the answer. Unemployment is not necessarily a disadvantage in a society that needs to tool up for war; look at the United States going into World War 2. Evidence should be provided that the points mentioned in the answer are actual material disadvantages for Earth.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 21:42
  • @JamieB Very valid point, but doesn't explain some things: i.e Earth has military much bigger than Mars (though not as advanced, agree). So clearly Earth can do something right.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 0:40
  • Good point, but doesn't explain a lot of things that we can see. Earth has bigger military than Mars, so clearly some things work there... Mars, OTOH, starts from much less advantageous position, making it much harder race. As for the rest: reducing CO2 emissions is a fool's errand and pursuing it will kill a lot of people (about half world pop, mostly in Africa and Asia). But this is so off-topic here.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 0:47

There are plenty of examples from real world history of a economically weaker nation competing with a larger one on equal terms.

Specifically, just look at the Cold War. The USSR, throughout the Cold War, lagged severely behind the USA in terms of raw GDP, usually being at around half the USA's raw economic output.

This comparison got even less favourable when you added in the total economic output of their respective alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The total GDP of NATO was almost three times as large as that of the Warsaw Pact in the late 80s, for instance.

And yet the USA and USSR competed on a basically equal footing for power through the latter half of the 20th century.

A big part of this is that raw economic output does not tell the entire story. The USSR devoted a much larger portion of its economy to its military and military production.

Mars is a much more militant and centralized society, and it has a much smaller population to support. It can spend more of its economic output on its military than Earth can, since Earth has to spend almost its entire economic output on support its population.

Then there is mutually assured destruction. Relative economic output doesn't matter one bit when both sides can obliterate the other. Both Mars and Earth, much like the USSR and USA and their nuclear weapons, can easily obliterate each other using mass drivers. This means that Earth is forced to treat Mars and its interests with respect because, much like in the real Cold War, they have a vested interest in not creating tension.

  • Good points. But it's explicitly said Earth has considerable military. And Mars is matching it through better tech, training and conviction - which all are actually valid points, to a point, which is this: Earth has last two, too, so Mars has to have REALLY good tech to compensate for inferior numbers, but how inferior they are? Last point: Mars is not Earth. On Mars you can't put your prisoners into shoddy built camp in the middle of huge, hostile territory and expect them to survive at least one season. Mars requires: food, air, water and SOLID shelter. Which is expensive.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 8:39
  • @AcePL I'm not sure that it matters that it's expensive. Do you think it was cheap to live in the US 300 years ago? Culture and drive means more than you're giving it credit for. Look at the estimated GDP of countries from 300 years ago and you'll see that the US was at the bottom of the list until the early 1900s. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP) Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 18:41
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    If mars colonies are underground it would take direct hits to destroy them. A sufficently large rock ANYWHERE on Earth can mess things up for the whole planet Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 4:38
  • @MiniRagnarok - yes, it was cheap to live 300 years ago, on average. But that also means the conditions were poor. USA in this time dramatically expanded into EMPTY SPACE AVAILABLE with MASSIVE immigration. On Mars that empty space MUST FIRST BE MADE HABITABLE. This is the difference: Oregon settlers lived in tents until they chopped enough trees to build a log house. They didn't have to carry ALL their water, food, energy source and building equipment with them. Most if it they had on site (foraged). You can't exactly camp on Mars... Show me a Martian nomad and I'll concede the point.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 8:08
  • @AcePL considering that in the Expanse universe humanity is capable of seemingly easily supporting millions of people living in space stations in the far reaches of the solar system, far away from Earth, supporting a civilization living underground on Mars seems relatively simple. Obviously this isn't realistic, but all sci-fi handwaves some massive logistical problems of this nature away with "good technology". You just have to take for granted that providing people with air, food, water, and shelter outside of Earth's biosphere is a solved problem in the Expanse universe. Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 13:33

Without being overly political: Mars is Israel, while Earth is the Arab nations surrounding Israel.

Israel has, despite being vastly outnumbered and (in its early years) outgunned by its enemies, been able to build a relatively progressive, wealthy, technologically advanced society that has also built up a disproportionately large and powerful military.

Those enemies have attempted to destroy Israel multiple times, and Israel has managed to hold out against them all of those times; so long and so successfully, in fact, that many of them have given up on the prospect of ever destroying Israel and signed peace treaties with it.

A common enemy is an incredibly powerful unifying force, especially when failure to unify almost certainly means the destruction of you and everything you hold dear; Israel has harnessed that force spectacularly well.

On the other side, the Arab nations have thrown massive amounts of weaponry and personnel at their enemy, only to see it all destroyed time and time again. It's difficult for ordinary people to continue to support a war against an enemy they probably will never encounter, when their loved ones are coming home in body bags or not at all.

And ultimately the various Arab nations had differing goals and expectations of what a clash with Israel would involve and what would be an acceptable outcome of said clash; differences that hindered their commitment to war and enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for sending their troops into a meat grinder.

Ultimately, most of those nations have decided - or been forced to conclude through internal and/or external struggles - that all-out war against Israel simply isn't a proposition that makes sense. That's particularly true considering Israel's formidable arsenal and willingness to use it against them.

Just as the Arab world has largely decided to either ignore Israel or begrudgingly accept its existence, so too would Earth be forced to come to the conclusion that Mars, no matter how apparently small or insignificant, simply isn't worth the effort to attempt to conquer.

  • 1
    Bad analogy: Israel pop initially was bigger than local Arab pop, it was massively subsidized and still is financed by external actors. But true, it efficiently exploited disunion of it's neighbors and worked hard to rebuild. Regardless, there was a lot of empty space to accommodate immigration. This is the bottleneck on Mars: if you run out of habitat space there, you can't exactly camp on the front lawn.
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 1:13

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