SpaceX founder Chief Engineer Elon Musk has long dreamed of making life multi-planetary by building a fleet of reusable Starships to enable humans to build ‘Mars Base Alpha’, the first colony on Mars. Musk recently sat down with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Artificial Intelligence researcher Lex Fridman to discuss a variety of subjects. During their conversation Musk mentioned that Mars colony builders will have the opportunity to return to Earth.
“What do you think is the most difficult aspect of building a civilization on Mars, terraforming Mars, from engineering perspective, from a financial perspective, human perspective… to get a large number of folks there who will never return back to Earth,” Fridman asked, to which Musk responded –“No…They can return back to Earth, some will return. […] We need the spaceships back, like the ones that go to Mars, we need them back. So, you can hop-on if you want. We can’t just not have the spaceships back, those things are expensive,” he said with a smile. SpaceX plans to reuse the fleet of rocket-ships. The Mars Base Alpha astronaut builders will be tasked with building a propellant plant to fuel Starships' return to Earth.
Fridman also asked if he had a specific plan on how to terraform the Red Planet – “… If you can’t get there nothing else matters,” Musk replied. “We can’t get there at some extraordinarily high cost… the current cost of, let’s say, one ton to the surface of Mars is on an order of a billion dollars.” He explained that the cost is very high because the Starship vehicles will require a lot of advanced technology, like long-distance communication systems, heat shield, life support systems, among many other vital things. “[…] This is obviously way too expensive to create a self-sustaining civilization. So, we need to improve that by at least a factor of a thousand,” Musk said, “Ideally, much less than a million [dollars] per ton.” Engineers are working to develop a stainless-steel Starship capable of lifting its own mass plus at least 100 tons of cargo to orbit.
“The Great Filter
will have been passed when the city on Mars can survive even if the spaceships stop coming, for any reason. […] If they stop coming for any reason, will they die out or not. And if there is one critical ingredient missing then it still doesn’t count, it’s like, you’re on a long sea voyage and you got everything except Vitamin C… it’s only a matter of time, you know, you’re going to die,” Musk explains. “We got to get Mars City to a point where its self-sustaining, I’m not sure if this will really happen in my lifetime but I hope to see it at least have a lot of momentum.”
Making Mars somewhat habitable for humans and plants will be a big challenge, megatons of resources and materials to build habitats and factories will need to be transported by Starship to ensure survival. Musk previously said that if SpaceX can launch the first Mars colonizers sometime within 5 to 10 years and continues to launch cargo and humans to the Red Planet every Earth-Mars orbital sync, which occurs around every 26 months, then humanity could have a self-sustaining Martian colony up-and-running by 2050. In order to achieve this, Musk says the rate of innovation needs to significantly increase to make it happen in our lifetime. He has said on multiple occasions that it is the main reason why he is accumulating assets on Earth, he wants to help fund humanity’s expansion to the Red Planet. SpaceX plans to manufacture at least 1,000 reusable Starships within the next 20 years. The company is getting ready to test a prototype of the spacecraft at Boca Chica Beach, Texas; It will conduct an orbital flight test that will provide engineers with insight to advance the rocket-ship's development. Musk aims to have a Starship ready to perform crewed missions to orbit and the Moon by 2023/2024 and the first mission to Mars by 2026.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX