SpaceX founder Elon Musk just outlined an ambitious vision for manned missions to Mars, which he said could begin as soon as 2022. He told an audience in his keynote speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico this week,
“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 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. The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”
To achieve his goal, Musk outlined a multi-stage launch and transport system. The booster, and the “interplanetary module” on top of it, would be nearly as long as two Boeing 747 aircraft. It could carry up to 100 passengers.
Musk said the first ship to go to Mars 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.
Musk estimated the current cost of sending someone to Mars at ‘around $10 billion per person. He 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 also 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”.
Asked at the talk about funding, 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”. He told the Guardian,
“Watching the crowd go absolutely wild today tells me that the best is yet ahead for space exploration.
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.“
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.”
The video is a hour long. Here are its contents,
00:00. Why Mars and become a multi-planetary civilization
05:55. Early exploration missions
09:15. Challenge 1: Full re-usability
11:17. Challenge 2: Refilling in orbit
12:31. Challenge 3: Mars propellant production
13:29. Challenge 4: Right Propellant
16:00. Mars Vehicle video
21:34. System architecture
23:25. Technical details
28:27. Vehicles by performance
31:38. Thruster & booster
39:34. Heat shield & Crew compartment
42:22. Costs & funding
45:45. History of SpaceX
52:34. Next… Dragon 2 on Mars in 2018
57:47. Raptor engine & carbon fibre tank
1:01:47. Beyond Mars
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(Top photo, Hector-Guerrero; via The Guardian)