SpaceX founder Elon Musk took the world’s collective breath away with his wonderfully ambitious plan to load 100 people into a spaceship, blast them to Mars, land on the surface in a matter of months and eventually set up a permanent settlement.
To be precise, his ultimate vision is to build a Martian city of millions in order to save humanity.
“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,” the billionaire explained to the crowd during a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“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.” Whoa. “The alternative is to become a space faring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”
He said he did not have a doomsday prophecy, but later negated it by saying “history suggests some doomsday event will happen.”
The space exploration company is developing a massive reusable rocket and capsule to transport large numbers of people and cargo to the red planet. The first spaceship will fly to Mars in 2018 and then after every 27 months depending on when Earth and Mars align favorably.
Musk plans to launch the first crew as early as 2024 to begin the colonization.
As for a possible alien threat or a Martian infection, well, Musk is not too concerned about it.
"There's really nothing on the surface of Mars, I think," the SpaceX CEO said later during a press call. "There may be subterranean, chemotrophic bacteria. I would expect they're pretty hardy, and there's not much that we could do to kick them out even if we wanted to.”
As pointed out by the tech giant, humans have better chance of survival at Mars as the planet is close to the Earth at about 140 million miles (225 million km). The journey to planet traditionally takes 6 to 9 months, but Musk expects his rocket to be able to cut the transit time to three months.
In addition, Mars has a lot of frozen water beneath its surface. The atmosphere has vital nutrients like carbon dioxide and nitrogen, which would aid in farming, and the gravity is just 37 percent that of Earth.
It would also not be a one-way journey since the company plans to reuse the spaceships to keep the transportation costs low.
How Musk plans to get a million people to the Red Planet?
The mass transportation system would include the ITS rocket – a scaled-up version of the first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster. The 254-foot-tall ITS booster would feature 42 Raptor engines and would stand a full 400 feet high, making it the largest spaceflight system ever built.
The booster would launch the spaceship, which would be 162 feet tall and 56 feet wide, to Earth’s orbit and return to make a soft landing at its launch site. Musk envisions NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to be the launch pad.
The spaceship, capable of carrying at least 100 passengers plus cargo per voyage, would land on Mars using “supersonic retropropulsion” and slowing down enough to touch down softly by firing onboard thrusters.
The colonist would spend the three-month-journey playing board games, watching movies and fine dining at the on-board restaurants.
Is anyone else getting any “Battlestar Galactica” vibes?
Risk of fatalities
Musk also made clear the dangers of taking the trip to the red planet, saying there would be no guarantee of survival for anyone signing up for the “incredible adventure.”
"The risk of fatality will be high. There's no way around it. Basically, are you prepared to die, and if that's OK then you're a candidate for going," he said. “You can't create a self-sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $10 billion per person. Our goal is to get it roughly equivalent to (the) cost of a median house in the United States, about $200,000.”
How does SpaceX expect to pay for it?
Now, the million-dollar question (pun intended) is how would the company fund this elaborate project?
As it turns out, SpaceX’s biggest customer, NASA, is going to bring in some profit.
“I’m only personally accumulating assets in order to fund this,” said Musk, estimating the development costs at $10 billion.
“Ultimately this is going to be a huge public-private partnership,” he added.