The mission had no name, and the crew of eleven flew to Mars in a modified heavy lifter. Instead of conventional engines, this ship, the Mars Express, flew using a new fission drive. It did not need oxidizers to burn the fuel, and just propelled it directly through reactors. The ship also had the benefit of constant acceleration-deceleration, with the only periods of weightlessness being in orbit of Luna and Mars, and when the ship had to turn around to begin slowing. Flight time to and from Mars was only ten weeks.
The ship landed near the Hellas Basin. The overall goal of the mission was to find life, or evidence of previous occupants. For a year, the crew searched and failed to find any solid proof. However, they did tap into an aquifer, so salty that nothing could live in it. With a source of water, that could be purified later, and convinced nothing lived at the site of a kilometer wide crater, one of the last tasks before leaving Mars was to release a crate of nanites. These machines would build a dome over the crater. Gates planned a second expedition, which would bring in plants, animals and material required to establish an ecology within the habitat. It would serve as a headquarters for further exploration of the planet. Two more missions were flown over the next decade, both construction missions, completing the habitat within ten years.