Elon Musk wants to send you to Mars — here’s how he plans to do it
Elon Musk wants to send you to Mars. Not today, not tomorrow, and perhaps not even in your lifetime.
But as he explained in a lecture at the International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, he thinks humanity doesn’t really have a choice.
“History is going bifurcate along two directions,” the founder and CEO of SpaceX said. If we stay on earth, Musk said, we’ll inevitably go “extinct” and consume all of our resources. But if we go to Mars, and terraform it — make it habitable — there’s another way forward for mankind.
“Are you prepared to die? If that’s okay, then you’re candidate for going,” Musk said.
He is already working on a plan to take us there, which Musk previewed for the audience in Guadalajara. He’s been talking about it in bits and pieces, but he has now presented the broad strokes of the plan.
It goes something like this: SpaceX has a new “Interplanetary Transport System” project (ITS) that includes the so-nicknamed “BFR” (Big Fucking Rocket) and a “BFS” (Big Fucking Space ship). The rocket and its new “Raptor” engine are more powerful than any others ever built, beating out NASA’s 1960s and 70s-era Saturn V.
Aside from scaling up the size and power of the rockets, Musk’s real innovation on getting to Mars has to do with what his company is known for: keeping it (relatively) cheap, by reusing everything as much as possible. SpaceX plans for the ITS to get 1,000 uses per booster, 100 per fuel tanker and 12 per spaceship. By comparison, the retired space shuttle Discovery racked up 39 successful takeoffs and landings over 27 years.
Starting in 2018, Musk wants to start using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket (which SpaceX is aiming to test launch in November), a “Red Dragon” spaceship and other unmanned, Mars-specific space tech (like a rover or “two to three tons of useful payload) before a manned mission in 2025, beating NASA by at least five or six years.
Jonathan Goff, founder of the startup Altius Space Machines and a well-known space tech blogger, says that he thinks Musk’s near term plans with the Falcon rockets and Dragon ships “aren’t beyond the scope of what SpaceX can do.”
“My bigger question is with the crazier stuff, the Mars colonial transportation stuff,” Goff said. “I think SpaceX is maybe going too big, too fast. There’s a lot they could do with Falcon Heavy and Falcon class vehicles. Build up experience, infrastructure and make a jack of all trades vehicle that can fly 100 people to mars and back.”
Musk, who acknowledged in his Mars lecture that when it comes to meeting timelines, he’s “not the best at this sort of thing,” says that he’s going all-in financially to bring this project to fruition.
“The reason I’m personally accumulating assets is to fund this,” the man worth nearly $12 billion said, particularly concerned that humanity might lose its chance to slip the surly bonds of Earth.
“Technology does not automatically improve, it only improves if a lot of strong engineering talent is applied to the problem that it improves,” Musk said. “Civilizations reach a certain technology level, and then have fallen well below that, and only recovered it millenia later.”
Musk didn’t go into a lot of detail about how Mars will be made habitable, or from where he’ll try to get investment dollars. He also, predictably, didn’t really talk about the Falcon rocket that exploded on the launchpad earlier this month. And he also didn’t really talk about the kinds of people (himself?) that he wants to send to Mars.
“This is less about who goes there first,” Musk said. “The thing that really matters is making this … self-sustaining. This is different from a product. This is really about minimizing existential risk and having a tremendous sense of adventure.”
SpaceX propulsion just achieved first firing of the Raptor interplanetary transport engine pic.twitter.com/vRleyJvBkx
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 26, 2016