Preparing for Liftoff
Once the decision is made to go ahead, it's time to choose a crew, stock the ship and set a course.
Based on cost, current technology and needs of the mission, a crew of eight is thought to be the optimal size for the first landing party. The rigors of the job require excellent physical and mental health, and choosing a compatible group of specialists will be a top priority. It's even been suggested that astronaut couples be used to alleviate the stress and boredom that is sure to be a factor.
Minimal equipment would be sent with the astronauts. Any additional equipment needed could be dropped before or after the flight using the airbag landing system that has been successful on recent rover missions.
Roughly every 26 months, the Earth and Mars orbit into position that will allow the shortest possible flight path. The journey will take at least six months.
The landing spot will depend largely on how scientists decide to begin the first phase of terraforming — raising the greenhouse gas levels and heating the planet. The location might even provide materials endemic to Mars for building a space station or for settling a colony. As on Earth, temperatures may fluctuate and the weather conditions may be safer for landing and settling in some areas than others.