According to Canadian-American entrepreneur Elon Musk – the one who stated he’s going to do it – the question is not “Are we?” but – in fact – “When are we?” As he’s told during one of his interviews for National Geographic Chanel, “The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions. Either we’re going to become a multiplanet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event.”
“For me,” he continues, “to be excited and inspired about the future, it’s got to be the first option. It’s got to be: we’re going to be a spacefaring civilization.”
Well. Seems logical. Pessimistic, true, but who’d like to take his chances? With about 17,000 operational nuclear warheads on Earth, “some eventual extinction event” is no longer a sci-fi plot. 17,000 nuclear warheads are enough to reduce our planet to cinders, to a heap of space-flung dust.
But then, how is colonizing another planet going to help us? Isn’t this a sci-fi plot?
Appears it’s not. Though Musk is known for his bold statements, he’s also known to fulfill his promises. In fact, the more impossible his goals seem to be, the higher seems his motivation.
Aged 45, Elon Musk is, among the others,
- co-chairman of OpenAI (a non-profit Artificial Intelligence research association and think tank dedicated to careful promotion and development of what’s called a friendly AI)
- co-founder and chairman of SolarCity (an American provider of solar power and one of the founding members of TASC – The Alliance for Solar Choice – an organization advocating for the decrease of use of the environment-hostile power sources for the rooftop photovoltaic installations)
- co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Motors (a brand designing, manufacturing, and selling electric cars)
- founder of X.com (now merged with PayPal)
- co-founder of Zip2
He’s also the one who has envisioned the famous high-speed transportation system Hyperloop.
What’s most important here, though, is that he’s also the founder, CEO, and CTO of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. SpaceX – as Space Exploration Technologies Corporation is better known as to the public – is an aerospace manufacturer and space transport corporation aiming at establishing first human colonies on Mars as soon as of mid-2020’s. Their space exploration program was unveiled this September. The one to unveil it was, to no actual surprise, Elon Musk himself.
As of June 2016, Elon Musk has had an estimated net worth of US$12.7 billion, making him the 83rd wealthiest person in the world.
So. With a background such as this, we can presume that if there’s a person who can go to the Red Planet, it’s him. But is it possible, still? And if it is, is it – this soon?
Interplanetary Transportation System
Though space exploration is the most resource-demanding enterprise we have come up with, we’re not used to reusing our space equipment. There’s a lot of space debris of our making on Earth’s orbit. There’s a lot of expensive components and electronics. There are entire shuttles, rockets, vessels. Once it’s abandoned, it’s left there to float, now useless and broken.
According to Musk, the key to colonizing Mars, to becoming, as he’s put it, “a multiplanetary species,” is making these expensive pieces of equipment reusable. The truth is that, he’s explained, we’d never colonize Americas if we could use our ships only once. And, apparently, the same applies to Mars. Thus, the first step in making this multiplanetary dream possible is making our vessels reusable.
And that’s the exact reason behind what’s called “Interplanetary Transport System.” Each of SpaceX’s vessels is designed to house a crew of 100+ people. Each is to be brought to the orbit atop a massive rocket fueled by 42 ultra-powerful Raptor engines. Then, the rocket is to return to Earth. It is to return to the launch pad, where it will land without a problem thanks to its highly advanced navigational systems. After a while, it sets off again, this time, to provide the crew vessel with a fuel tank that, combined with futuristic solar collectors, will power it – the vessel – to fly to Mars. But it won’t fly alone! The process is to be repeated until there’s a fleet of these vessels waiting on orbit. Then, they are to depart, a Martian Fleet. And three months later – three months of fun cruise through the stars, zero-G games and pizza provided – You are there, the first colonists. That’s how it’s envisioned.
At this point, Musk has all the resources and tech necessary to send first Dragon Capsules to Mars by 2018. And so he intends to do.
The truth, however, is that although he is rich, he is not rich enough to do it all – all alone. The point is that he’ll need investors, contributors, and partners. Setting up extraterrestrial colonies is not the cheapest business. In fact, just as going to space, it’s the most expensive business there is.
So. To sum it up. The plan is to send a lot of equipment to the Red Planet, starting in 2018. Musk is cautious, though. He knows that there can be a delay. It would be ideal to start sending people there by the mid 2020’s. He’s aware that it may not be possible that soon. A lot of testing has to be done before we finally start to risk our lives. And the risk is real, apparently. Countless things can still go wrong.
And then, it’s not only about the problems, it is also about ambitions. Musk doesn’t simply want to go there. He wants to establish a colony. He also does want to make it a two-way trip: once You go there, he wants to make sure that You can always come back. SpaceX is also working on a technology that will make it possible, but it will require a lot of additional testing, field testing included. One can only imagine how expensive and time-consuming can this be.
To Sum It All Up
To sum it all up, once again, the plans are there. Is there the tech? Well, it is, it’s in the works. It’s being planned. Also, what’s more important, I don’t believe that Musk is giving away just everything he has. He is sure to have something hidden up his sleeve. It’s also worth noting that he’s still very modest and hedgy. He does not promise us too much, only that he’ll do his best. Will he take this opportunity?
There’s this story about him. It goes like this: when Musk was a pre-teenager, he’s taught himself how to code videogames. He’s made his first videogame at the age of 12. He then sold it for about $500 bucks, making it his first deal. Will the person who did that at the age of 12 be able to go to Mars at the age of 45 remains to be seen, though.
As for me, my fingers are crossed.