What's Elon Musk's Plan For Life On Mars?
If you know Elon Musk like we know Elon Musk — that is, creepily obsessed from a distance — you know how passionate he is about colonizing Mars. In his own words, "I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact." So maybe it's not surprising that he and his aerospace company SpaceX would have a pretty well thought-out plan for establishing a society on the Red Planet. We're on board, Elon! Take us with you!
Saving For The Trip
There's no use in planning your new life on Mars if you don't even know how you'll get there. That's why SpaceX's first priority is making the trip affordable. In his a 2017 paper he wrote for the journal New Space, Musk expressed the problem in the form of a Venn diagram — there is currently no intersection between the group of people who want to go to Mars and the group of people who can afford to go to Mars. In fact, at this point, the cost of a colony on Mars is an infinite amount of money. No number of piggy banks can pour out that kind of change.
The problem to solve on this front is reusability. After all, even a bicycle would become an unbearable expense if it could only be used once. If one spaceship and one set of booster rockets could be used over and over for multiple trips, the cost of tickets could be cut tremendously. And if you love Elon like we love Elon (which you don't, because no one loves Elon like we love Elon), you know that the Falcon 9 booster rocket has already demonstrated the ability to safely land and be reused. That doesn't mean the problem is solved, though. We'll only be able to travel to Mars every two years or so, when the planets are in the best alignment, so even if our ships are reusable, we won't have many chances to use them. It's an important first step, though.
Putting Down Roots
Of course, getting there is one thing and living there is another. When the first group of colonists lands on the Red Planet, one of their top priorities will be to prepare for the journey back. With their reusable ship safely stored in the solar system's first interplanetary garage, they'll have two years to convert enough of Mars's atmosphere into methane for fuel.
But eventually, Musk hopes that the new Martian community will develop into something larger. In discussing the design of the colonial ships, his vision sounds grandiose: "it needs to fit 100 people or thereabouts in the pressurized section, carry the luggage and all of the unpressurized cargo to build propellant plants, and to build everything from iron foundries to pizza joints to you name it."
By launching 1,000 of these ships every two years, he estimates a colony of one million could be thriving within 40 years of the first blast-off. Frankly, it would sound impossible if it weren't for the man who's saying it. He's already put the first mission on the schedule, in late 2022. So if the idea of life on Mars has ever appealed to you, now might the time to start thinking about what you'd pack.
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