Despite being heavy on both technology — the how of getting there — and on the dangers that await those first explorers just a decade from now, entrepreneur Elon Musk, who laid out a vision of travel to Mars, has some exciting aspects as well.
“The first journey will be very dangerous, and the risk of fatality will be very high. Are you prepared to die? Then you are a candidate for going,” Musk said in response to a question during a highly anticipated presentation at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The billionaire founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. said that a way for Earth’s 7 billion-plus humans to ensure the future of the species against possible extinction events could be presented by Mars with zero population. At fares that would start at roughly $200,000 and drop toward $100,000 over time, he envisions spacecraft holding 100 or more passengers voyaging to the Red Planet within a decade. The presentation brought both rounds of applause from the audience, and questions.
“It was very detailed on the spacecraft, but not so detailed when it comes to funding. It’s about inspiring others to see that this is possible. But a lot of things have to fall into place for this to happen,” said John Holst, a research analyst at the Space Foundation who watched via webcast.
Without being specific, he said that public-private partnerships would be needed and he was willing to spend his personal assets, valued at roughly $8.6 billion, toward the goal, Musk, who also is chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., said. Venturing to Mars would be fun for those “with an exploratory spiri,” he said while stressing that there are risks, just as there were for explorers and settlers on Earth generations ago.
“What I really want to try to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and there will be some eventual extinction event. … The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multiplanet species,” Musk said
Launching payloads into orbit and returning the rockets to Earth for reuse is one of the key technologies Musk said is needed to enable travel to Mars and this is available in SpaceX which is already making progress. For customers that include commercial satellites and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the company currently flies the Falcon 9 rocket.
The destruction of one of SpaceX rockets on the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida is an accident that underscores the fact that Musk is no stranger to the risks of space exploration. No people have yet been sent to space by the Hawthorne, California-based company.
Launching of a spacecraft holding roughly 100 people toward Mars by an enormous booster rocket with 42 new Raptor engines blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida is the vision of Musk. Before heading to the Red Planet, the spacecraft will be refueled in orbit. The spacecraft is christened “Heart of Gold,” in a nod to the science fiction book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Depending on the positions of Earth and Mars at the time, the trip could take 80 to 130 days. To produce fuel for the return trip home, factories would be built on Mars.
“The goal of SpaceX really is to build the transport system,” Musk said, drawing a comparison to the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)