Ann Clayborne sat in the back of Michel's rover, sprawled across three seats, feeling the wheels rise and fall over the rocks. Inside, the main room was lit by floor-level windows, which gave a snake's-eye view out under the skirt of the rover's stone roof. Rough gravel road, scattered rockfall in the way. Michel wasn't bothering to drive around the smaller samples; they rolled along at about sixty kph, and when they hit a big one they all jounced in their seats.
This is what riding in a Mars rover might be like according to Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red Mars. It might not sound like a very enjoyable ride, but rovers are just one of many ways we will be able to travel on Mars in the future.
Similar to the vehicle described above, rovers on Mars will be anything but comfortable. Kim Stanley Robinson describes several types of rovers in his Mars Series, all of which travel for extended periods of time. Unlike personal vehicles on the road today, these vehicles would contain living quarters and enough supplies for long journeys across large expanses of land. Guided by GPS or automatic pilot, the rovers would avoid any dangerous terrain. Mr. Robinson (insert Simon and Garfunkle reference here) also suggests that rovers could follow a train track or could automatically follow a "magnetic transponder" route.
The Sojourner onboard the Pathfinder is an example of a rover. Future models of this vehicle will be more than 10 times its size. A prototype for a rover used for human transportation is under development by NASA and the Mars Society. (See Also: Pathfinder)
A maglev is a high speed train that runs by using a strong electromagnet to elevate it above the track. While not in heavy use in the United States, Japan is host to many lines and boasts the fastest land travel in the world. On Mars, this type of transportation would be extremely practical and would provide the fastest ground movement. However, in Beta Colony, a small train might provide a more cost-efficient method. The movement of freight, including the shipment of water from another source, is invaluable to AC's survival.
The US Army has done some experimenting with hovercrafts due to their fast movement over otherwise unpassable land. Hovercrafts could glide over rocky terrain in a straight path, saving literally days during long-term travel. However, due to their extremely high cost and the large amounts of dust that would be dispersed, don't expect hovercrafts to be used in great quantities any more than here on Earth.
A glider on Mars.
The low air-density on the planet will make airplanes on Mars a true engineering feat in the first few years of Beta Colony. Many years in the future, passenger and freight planes will be common, but until then ground travel may be more realistic. Until then, experiments with "space jets" are taking place, which will allow the fastest possible travel from one side of the Earth to another. These should make an entrance on Mars after commercialism takes hold, and may even completely erase the need for sub-atmospheric planes. Alternatively, gliders are being tested and the first flight over Mars should occur as early as 2003.
This type of transportation would serve more for observational purposes. Although blimps have been discussed before as a valuable method for transportation, I believe we will not see these on Mars any more than we do on Earth. A Goodyear Blimp on Mars would be very cool though.
Yet another form of transportation is a space elevator. A space elevator, first credited to Arthur Clarke, would move freight and people between the surface and space easily and efficiently. No longer would we have to blast out of Mars' atmosphere with huge rockets, or land on the surface with expensive landing vehicles. We could just take the elevator. A passing asteroid would have to be captured and put into orbit around Mars, with a cable built down to the equator where it would be suspended a few feet above ground. Cars would then be built to travel up and down the cable, a trip that would take no more than 3 or 4 days.
The asteroid would act as a huge spaceport, connecting trade, commerce, and traffic between Earth, Mars, and other colonies in the Solar System. In Red Mars, the elevator takes 10 years to be completed, constructed solely by robots using the metals found in the very asteroid that was captured in Martian orbit. Actually, this theory is very realistic, as the hardest part would not be in the construction of the elevator but in the maitenance required afterwards.
Other types of transportation will be included here in the future and current methods will be expanded as more information becomes available.