I cruised around West Texas for nearly a week – internet-less – in the magical deserts of Big Bend National Park. And (speaking of deserts) that’s why I missed Elon Musk’s September 27, 2016 announcement about SpaceX’s plan to make human life multi-planetary by building a self-sustaining, one-million-person civilization on Mars. Here’s a short synopsis, with a few links to great, long, detailed articles written this week by others, plus some photos and videos, including the two-hour video from SpaceX of Musk’s actual announcement at the 2016 International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Before reading on, watch the four-minute video below. It’ll give you the flavor of Musk’s plan:
Elon Musk is SpaceX’s Founder, CEO, and Lead Designer. His vision – announced in what Eric Berger at arstechnica.com called “the naked baring of his soul” – is to ferry 100 people at a time to Mars in a skyscraper-sized rocket. These aren’t free trips. No one is going to send you to Mars. But your ticket to Mars would be within reach, according to Musk’s plan, for less than US$200,000, or about the median cost of a house in the U.S.
The big SpaceX rocket booster for the Mars plan is said to be nearly four times as powerful as the mighty Saturn V booster that lifted the first astronauts to the moon. Those first moon shots, as you’ll recall, carried fewer than a handful of people each. SpaceX has vastly bigger ideas and used the name Interplanetary Transport System for its rocket, although it hasn’t settled on an official name yet. Musk described it as:
… by far the biggest flying object ever.
While en route to Mars, would-be colonists will play zero-g games, float around, go to movies and lectures and eat in a restaurant, Musk said. More good news. In Musk’s vision, future Mars colonists – using rockets like this one, and SpaceX’s proven ability not only to launch rockets but also land them successfully back on Earth – would be able to come back to Earth if they want (assuming they can afford the ticket price). Here’s what really got me going, though, as a long-time skywatcher: Musk is linking specific parts of his initial plan to upcoming Mars oppositions, once-every-two-year events when Earth and Mars are on the same side of the sun. As Mars brightens in our sky in the coming years, will we also be able to imagine SpaceX ships there and the beginnings of a colonization effort? The info below, from Wait But Why, outlines the next few steps:
Upcoming Mars Oppositions – and what SpaceX is planning for each
July, 2018: Send a Dragon spacecraft (the Falcon 9’s SUV-size spacecraft) to Mars with cargo
October, 2020: Send multiple Dragons with more cargo
December, 2022: Maiden [Interplanetary Transport System] voyage to Mars. Carrying only cargo. This is the spaceship Elon wants to call Heart of Gold [a nod to the fictional spacecraft A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy].
January, 2025: First people-carrying … voyage to Mars.
Did you catch that?
If things go to plan, the Neil Armstrong of Mars will touch down about eight years from now.
Okay, so here are some links that you should check out for more details:
The video just below (nearly two hours) is the complete announcement by Elon Musk on September 27. The talk itself starts about 20 minutes in.
Bottom line: Elon Musk of SpaceX said on September 27, 2016 that he wants to make humans a multiplanetary species, beginning with a million people in a Mars colony by the end of this century.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.