Yesterday was an interesting day for those of us who dream about space travel. Thats because Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled his plans for the future, which include sending humans to Mars within a decade and establishing a colony on the Red Planet before the end of the century.
Musk took the stage at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico to share his vision of where SpaceX – and manned space travel – is headed in the years to come. It was an ambitious one to say the least.
Getting to Mars will involve a multi-stage rocket not unlike the Falcon 9 that Space X is currently using, although much larger in size. A second stage booster will help catapult the so called “interplanetary module” – which could carry as many as 100 people – out of orbit and on towards its eventual destination on Mars. Other booster rockets could also be placed in orbit for future use, allowing the module to refuel and make multiple journeys throughout the solar system. For Musk, Mars isn’t the only place he sees humans eventually heading.
For the visionary billionaire this isn’t just some frivolous ego project. He sees the potential future of the human race on the line. He said the human race now faces two different paths. “One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event. The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”
Musk says that he believes manned mission to Mars could begin as early as 2022, which is sooner than his previous estimates had indicated. SpaceX is dedicated towards building and testing the rockets and other technology that will allow that to happen, but he admits there are some big obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is cost. Musk says he estimates that it will currently cost about $10 billion per person for a manned flight to Earth’s neighbor. Where the funding will come from to pay for such a journey remains a bit of a mystery.
SpaceX has made significant inroads in the commercial space industry, but it hasn’t come without setbacks. The company has seen its reusable rockets crash miserably in some of its tests, and a recent explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket on a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida has left some wondering about the reliability of its equipment. Still, the technical team has been able to stick the landing of the rocket with more regularity in recent months, and the company is working out the problems that caused the malfunction that destroyed a $100 million satellite that was in its cargo hold.
As someone who would love to have the opportunity to travel in space, Musk’s plans sound very exciting. I’m glad someone – anyone – is pushing forward with a space program in a time when NASA seems hamstrung by budget issues and societal pressures to stay grounded on Earth. But sending a crew to Mars in just six years sounds awfully optimistic to me, especially when you consider SpaceX hasn’t had a manned launch of any kind just yet. I’d love to be proven wrong, and I would be the last person to bet against Elon Musk, but I believe we are a lot further away from going to Mars than this plan would indicate.
That said, I’m ready to sign up when Elon calls.
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