Musk Plans Trip to Mars
It has become widely known that CEO of Tesla and SpaceX Elon Musk hopes to colonize and ultimately retire on Mars. How exactly he plans to do this remains in the works. However, in an interview published in The Washington Post last Friday, Musk outlined his plans with a little more detail, allowing us all a much-anticipated peak into the innovator’s head, and perhaps, into the future.
According to Musk, as soon as 2018 SpaceX may launch a spacecraft to Mars. While the craft would be unmanned, it could then potentially be followed by future unmanned flights every two years, timed opportunely for when the Earth and Mars orbits position the planets to be closest together.
According to Musk, a cargo route would be necessarily established far in advance of any manned trip. He went on to compare these supply ventures to trains that leave a station at regular intervals. After all, before any astronauts could colonize Mars, all the materials for critical infrastructure must already be stationed on the planet.
All these ventures are part of the initial stage of a larger effort to prepare for SpaceX’s first human mission to Mars in year 2025. The first unmanned missions would be sent for the purposes of science experiments and to deliver rovers to the planet through which earthbound scientists could conduct basic exploration.
The major issue that Musk may run up against is the fact that SpaceX is a private company. NASA and other organizations that have successfully sent materials and humans into space have always been government-backed and -associated groups. While NASA has promised to provide technical support for SpaceX’s 2018 mission, no government entity has offered to foot the bill. Musk will have to find the money (and investors) on his own.
NASA is currently planning for an official government-supported mission to Mars, but it wouldn’t take place until the 2030s. There are apparently also members of Congress that would rather return to the moon than venture to another planet. For the US government, space exploration is a costly venture for which no lobbyists are willing to support re-election campaigns.
“Launching infrastructure-building space missions to Mars and taking advantage of every launch window would be essential for establishing a sustainable program,” offered Mike Gruntman, professor of aerospace engineering and systems architecture engineering at the University of Southern California. “Similarly, weather conditions allowed [ships to sail] to North America from Europe in the old days,” he continued.\
SpaceX would likely launch a rocket to Mars by utilizing its Dragon spacecraft, which would then be boosted into space by the Falcon Heavy, which derives its power from 27 first-stage engines. While the Dragon is larger than any man-made object to ever successfully land on Mars, it would need to be only the first of many missions that would deliver more and potentially even larger critical infrastructure. Considering that infrastructure must then travel 140 million miles, even when Earth and Mars are at their closest, perhaps only to find a race of angry martians that don’t want to share their planet, SpaceX has certainly got its work cut out for it. That said, Elon Musk has a knack for surprising and revolutionizing the human population.