Elon Musk, founder of Space X, has announced a plan to begin manned missions to Mars as early as 2022. While leaving some ambiguities as to how he planned to fund the extravagant project, Musk put his project in terms of “two fundamental paths” for humanity moving forward into the future.
“One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event,” Musk said. “The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.” The quote frames the Mars project in a stark context of long-term survival for the human species.
Musk announced his plans at Tuesday’s International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. To facilitate these missions, Musk also presented a plan for a much larger version of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket. The multi-stage rocket would include a reusable booster and an “interplanetary module.” The module would be nearly twice as long as a Boeing 747 aircraft, and would be able to carry as many as 100 passengers.
Musk said the first ship to travel to Mars would be called the “Heart of Gold”, a reference to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and its ship powered by an “infinite improbability drive.”
He said similar modules would remain in orbit in the Earth’s atmosphere in order to refuel interplanetary craft to allow them to be used for multiple trips. Musk also described a plan to use water and carbon dioxide on Mars to synthesize fuel for return trips to Earth.
Musk’s estimated cost per passenger to Mars was around 10 billion dollars. He added that the reusability of the craft would lead to a significant drop in price over time, which would eventually reduce the cost by “orders of magnitude.” For the initially extravagant cost of the project, he suggested two possible sources of revenue, including transporting cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station, and launching satellites, services which Space X is already offering. In discussing other sources of funding, Musk indicated a willingness to personally help fund the project, saying “The reason I am personally accruing assets is to fund this. I really have no other purpose than to make life interplanetary.”
NASA has responded to Musk’s proposed missions to Mars, saying “NASA applauds all those who want to take the next giant leap – and advance the journey to Mars. We are very pleased that the global community is working to meet the challenges of a sustainable human presence on Mars. This journey will require the best and the brightest minds from government and industry, and the fact that Mars is a major topic of discussion is very encouraging.”