You probably know that super billionaire Elon Musk wants to put a million people on the Red Planet sometime in the near future, for less than US$200,000 a head.
He explained how he would aim to do this.
Between solving traffic congestion through digging tunnels under cities, futuristic human-computer interfaces and solving power problems, Elon Musk wants to lay the groundwork for getting us off our planet one day.
It is not weird, what else would you do if you were a billionaire 17 times over?
From what we know from a Q&A with Musk on Reddit last October, this plan to get a million people onto Mars in the next century had four crucial chapters; scout out the terrain, drop off a fuel-production factory, send a few pioneers, and then send a bunch more.
According to Scott Hubbard, New Space’s editor-in-chief:
“In my view, publishing this paper provides not only an opportunity for the spacefaring community to read the SpaceX vision in print with all the charts in context, but also serves as a valuable archival reference for future studies and planning.”
Musk’s 15 page commentary explains why Mars is his first choice in space destination.
He also suggests how to reduce the cost of getting there by 5 million percent from the current US$10 billion per person to a more affordable US$200,000; how the Interplanetary Transport System will function; what the time frames could be like; and since he’s already aiming high, where to go after settling on Mars.
While Musk is cautious about setting dates in stone, he says if all goes well it could possibly see the first flights to Mars leave by 2023.
Then within the following five to 10 decades, a series of missions reusing old equipment would carry a million people over to settle and start a new world.
If it all seems a bit out there, Musk would probably agree, writing in his commentary:
“In 2002, SpaceX basically consisted of carpet and a mariachi band. That was it. I thought we had maybe a 10 percent chance of doing anything – of even getting a rocket to orbit, let alone getting beyond that and taking Mars seriously.”
But there is a world of difference between popping a reusable rocket or two into low Earth orbit and setting up a new civilisation on an inhospitable planet, even if you do happen to some spare change laying around.
These added details could help fill in a few blanks, though there are still plenty of questions left to be answered.
Last year, space policy expert John Logsdon told Business Insider:
“[Musk] minimises things that will require a fair amount of further research and work. All the drawings of the spaceship, you don’t see where 100 people are going to live for months at a time as they wait for Mars on the journey out.”
That hand-waving of vital details could make it easy for stakeholders to eventually lose interest over the long term as plans remain permanently in the future.
All of this is still based only on what we currently know.
Who knows what other surprises our neighbour has in store for us?
As easy as it is to come up with a hundred reasons why such an ambitious plan would be a dismal failure, however, Musk makes his true intentions clear in the opening paragraph.
“By talking about the SpaceX Mars architecture, I want to make Mars seem possible – make it seem as though it is something that we can do in our lifetime,” he writes.
“There really is a way that anyone could go if they wanted to.”
“He’s laying out a vision, and visions don’t have to be consistent and coherent,” Logsdon said last year.
Whether a pipe-dream or seriously the start of something big, you have to agree with Hubbard – this document will be one for the history books.