Elon Musk has a grand vision for the future of humanity, and it has nothing to do with planet Earth. Musk not only wants to go to Mars, but he plans to take us all there and colonize the Red Planet. Speaking at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Musk outlined SpaceX’s ambitious Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), which aims to transport humans to Mars in gigantic rockets. If everything goes well, Musk says the company could start transporting humans in the next decade. Also Read - Elon Musk now wants to travel to space but not on SpaceX rocket
In his speech aptly titled — ‘Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species’, Musk explained the idea behind his ambitious plan saying, “I really think there are two fundamental paths [for humans]: One path is we stay on Earth forever, and some eventual extinction event wipes us out. The alternative is, become a spacefaring and multi-planetary species.” To achieve this, Musk and his team are working on technologies like huge reusable rockets, carbon-fiber fuel tanks, and rocket engines that are twice as powerful as the Saturn 5 boosters that sent US astronauts to the Moon. As you can imagine, all this won’t come cheap and Musk estimates an investment of around $10 billion. He also plans to work on bringing down the overall cost of space travel with the aim of bringing down the cost of per ticket to Mars costing around $200,000 (Rs 1.3 crore approximately). Also Read - Elon Musk turns 50: Five coolest tech-related things he did via Tesla, SpaceX and more
During his speech, Musk gave a glimpse at what Mars travel would involve and feel like. SpaceX plans to use a crew vessel that can accommodate around 100 to 200 passengers, placed atop a massive rocket ship. Combined, both will be taller than a 40-story building. The rocket will be powered by a massively upgraded version of the company’s current Falcon 9 booster, accompanied by 42 individual methane-fueled Raptor engines. Also Read - Happy Birthday Elon Musk! 5 interesting facts about Tesla CEO on his 50th birthday
The first stage involves rapidly ascending to the Earth’s orbit, where the first booster detaches and is programmed to drop back and precisely land at the launchpad in Cape Carnaval. Here, the booster will be refitted with a ‘tanker’ vessel containing a massive load of fuel. The rocket will launch again and meet the crew vessel in the orbit, where it will refuel the spaceship for its journey to Mars.
The spaceship will hurtle towards the Red Planet at over 19,000 miles per hour and Musk envisions the entire journey to be completed in just over three months. Along the way, Musk promises that passengers will have a lot of fun playing games in zero gravity, watching movies and hanging out at the pizza shop. “It will be like, really fun to go, you’ll have a great time,” Musk says. On arrival at Mars, Musk says that the ship will create a ‘mild friction’ with the Mars’ atmosphere helping it slow down, and it will land on the surface using a method called supersonic retropulsion. This process involves firing the rocket engines to slow the descent until the ship lands on the surface, which is also used by SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 rockets.
The highlight of SpaceX’s ITS is its reusability. The spaceships won’t be rendered unusable after completing their journey to Mars. Instead, by harvesting methane fuel from the Red Planet, these spaceships could be sent back to Earth to get them ready for another journey. This part is of paramount importance to really bring down the costs of inter-planetary travel. If all goes well, it won’t be too much to expect a future where you travel between planets in the same way we currently travel between continents.
Musk says if everything goes well, the first spaceship could be ready to test in just three years, but it will still take more than 10 years to start transporting humans to Mars. Musk however quickly says that the 10 year timeline is just a theory and it will only happen if everything goes well. “I don’t want to say that’s when this will occur,” Musk says. “This is a huge amount of risk, will cost a lot, and there’s a good chance we won’t succeed. But we’re going to try and do our best.” The absolute long-term plan for Musk is to “actually building a city” on Mars.
Musk’s grand plan to colonize Mars may seem the stuff of science fiction, but there is no denying the dedication and ambition of the man. He plans to achieve what NASA with US government-backing or any other space-faring nations haven’t been able to so far. Speaking of NASA, its plans involve sending astronauts to Mars by 2035 a long time after SpaceX. But for Musk to achieve his dream, he requires a lot of money and backing from willing investors. He may be rich, and his companies may be doing well, but that is still nowhere close to the sort of money required to make interplanetary travel more than a pipedream. As The Verge brilliantly summarizes, the entire point of Musk’s speech last night was a shout out to all the space fanatics (with capital) out there who would want to be a part of his ambitious dream.