Elon Musk’s Grand Plan Promises To Colonize Mars At The Cost Of ‘Buying a House’

Rafia Shaikh
Posted Sep 27, 2016
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TL;DR 300 feet tall reusable rockets launch fleets of carbon-fiber spaceships into orbit. Boosters return to Earth, blast again with tankers that will be used for refueling the initial spacecrafts, sending them further to Mars.

Elon Musk’s Mars Mission

Elon Musk says in case of doomsday, we need to become multi-planetary species, or be ready for extinction.

SpaceX CEO announced his plans of colonizing Mars during an address at the 67th Internet Astronautical Congress meeting in Mexico. Why Mars? Well, it’s better than “hot acid baths” of Venus and Mercury. And except for the moon, everything else is too far out, making Mars the better-suited doomsday dwelling for humans.

While Musk has long toyed with the idea of colonizing Mars, today he finally revealed his detailed plans of getting to Mars. SpaceX plans to build a “self-sustaining city” on Mars. The company intends to send colonizers to the Red Planet with 1,000 ships and 200 people per ship. Musk estimated that the process would take 40 to 100 years to achieve a completely self-sustaining civilization on the new planet, with over one million people sent to the Red Planet.

Hmm, what’s stopping us? The cost. Musk estimates the cost using conventional methods (think NASA) at about $10 billion per person. If we really want to build a colony, the cost needs to drop drastically. By about 5 million percent! Okay.

But the “real Tony Stark” says that the cost of a Mars move will eventually be below $100,000 per person. Musk said that creating spaceships with reusable parts would reduce the costs. During his announcement that was live streamed to public, Musk detailed four aspects of the space travel that would make this journey possible and that need to be improved. Reusable rockets, refueling the spaceships in orbit, using a methane fuel instead of traditional rocket fuel to harvest methane on Mars itself, and sending ships back to Earth for reuse.

What kind of transport? Giant spaceships and reusable rockets

For this journey to the Red Planet, SpaceX has already built and successfully tested the Raptor rocket engine. This methane fuel-powered engine is more powerful than any other rocket on Earth.

Before today’s presentation, SpaceX also released a preview of its new Interplanetary Transport System. Previously called the Mars Colonial Transporter, Musk changed the name suggesting that it could take us beyond Mars to other planets in the solar system.

ITS sounds like a fun place, featuring zero-gravity rooms, cafeteria, and entertainment options like movie areas. ITS will be propelled by about 40 Raptor engines, and will be capable of transporting 100 tons of cargo, supplies or people. In-orbit refueling of ITS is crucial for Mars colonization plans, as it lowers fuel expenditures at liftoff. It also features fully reusable boosters that can be used 1,000 times. Reusable tankers and ships that can be each used 100 and 12 times, respectively, are also part of this game plan.

Once humans arrive on Mars, they will be able to produce the ITS’ methane-based propellant and send the ships back to Earth for reuse. This will further lower the cost of each trip and will also save Mars from becoming a backyard of spent ships.

Questions about safety and survival

All of this sounds fun and exciting. But, Elon’s focus is on the transport between Earth and Mars. While described as a “self-sustaining city,” there aren’t any details about long-term infrastructure that would help people survive once they get there. SpaceX hasn’t addressed any queries on where people live and eat. The company is still to respond to some of the health-related concerns. “The radiation thing is often brought up, but it’s not too big of a deal,” Tesla boss said.

“The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system,” he explained. Others would have to chip in to take on different roles. “Who wants to be among the first to build everything, from refineries to the first pizza joint?” the CEO asked.

Musk has previously promised to send humans to Mars by 2024. He envisions 1,000 of these monstrous ITS ships sitting in orbit at any one time, “kind of like Battlestar Galactica…good show”. Food or not, Elon Musk promises an incredible journey that would take around 80 days. You might die, but well, what better way to go.

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