Now we know how Elon Musk plans to get 1 million people to Mars and while many people still believe that this is the stuff of pure science fiction – and don’t get me wrong this is still bleeding edge stuff – the plan isn’t as far fetched as people think. Almost all of the necessary technologies needed to accomplish already exist, and more importantly, have already been proven – albeit at smaller scales.
The powerful booster systems needed to kickstart Musks amazing journey to the stars from NASA’s 11A launchpad at Cape Canaveral have already been tested. The reusable rockets and artificial intelligence pilots needed to land a craft on the surface of Mars have already been tested, the 3D printing systems needed to print habitats and food have already been tested. And so on and so on, you get the idea.
At a conference in Mexico on Tuesday, the SpaceX founder and CEO unveiled the company’s Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), which will combine the most powerful rocket ever built with a spaceship designed to carry at least 100 people to the Red Planet on each flight. And If all goes according to plan, the reusable ITS will help humanity establish a permanent, self-sustaining colony on the Red Planet within the next 50 to 100 years, Musk said at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara
“What I really want to try to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible – like it’s something we can achieve in our lifetimes,” he said.
You can watch the video of the entire presentation below but if you just want to see a CGI of just how cool the journey will be then fast forward to 17:00 minutes.
He said there were “two fundamental paths” facing humanity today.
“One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event,” he said, “the other alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”
In order to achieve this goal, Musk outlined a multi-stage interplanetary launch and transport system, including a reusable booster – like the Falcon 9, which SpaceX has already successfully tested – only much larger. The booster, and the interplanetary module on top of it, would be nearly as long as two Boeing 747 aircraft and could initially carry up to 100 passengers, he said.
The first ship to go to Mars, Musk said, would be named Heart of Gold as a tribute to the ship powered by an “infinite improbability drive” from Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Similar modules, also launched using reusable boosters, would remain in Earth’s orbit to refuel the interplanetary craft to be able to use multiple trips, including to other parts of the solar system such as Enceladus, a moon of Saturn on which Nasa’s Cassini mission recently found evidence of a polar subsurface water ocean that could harbour life.
Musk also outlined a system by which fuel could be synthesized on Mars from water and carbon dioxide in order to fuel return journeys to Earth.
He estimated the current cost of sending someone to Mars at “around $10bn per person”, though it was not clear if he meant using existing rocket systems or on the initial flight of his proposed system. He said that there would be price improvements over time because of the reusability of the spacecraft, in-orbit refuelling and on-Mars propellant production that would reduce that cost by “orders of magnitude” but nevertheless he said that the cost of travelling to Mars still needed to fall by “5 million percent” so that it could become affordable – although even with such a reduction in costs a one way ticket to the red planet would still apparently cost around $100,000.
But he made little attempt to solve the thorny problem of the initial cost of constructing the system. Suggesting possible revenue streams, Musk proposed two sources of cash – sending cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and launching satellites – both of which already part of SpaceX’s business model.
He also listed three other sources of revenue that simply read “kickstarter”, “profit” and – intriguingly – “steal underpants”.
Asked at the talk about funding, however, Musk said: “The reason I am personally accruing assets is to fund this. I really have no other purpose than to make life interplanetary.”
Bill Nye, chief executive officer of the Planetary Society and host of the popular TV show Bill Nye the Science Guy, was in the audience and described the energy of the crowd as “extraordinary”.
“Watching the crowd go absolutely wild today tells me that the best is yet ahead for space exploration,” he said, adding that Musk had presented “a very aggressive schedule that seemed feasible to the crowd”.
“No matter what we send to Mars, I very much hope we conduct a thorough, careful search for life before we consider landing people and cargo. I believe the discovery of life or evidence of life would change the way we think about the cosmos and our place within it,” Nye added.
Nasa said in a statement that it welcomed Musk’s plans.
“NASA applauds all those who want to take the next giant leap – and advance the journey to Mars. We are very pleased that the global community is working to meet the challenges of a sustainable human presence on Mars. This journey will require the best and the brightest minds from government and industry, and the fact that Mars is a major topic of discussion is very encouraging.”
Nasa says it has made “extraordinary progress” developing a plan for sustainable Mars exploration, building partnerships in both the public and private sectors.
Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series.
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