Imagine going on vacation, not to a different country but to a different planet, or even living there! In 50 years this might be reality. SpaceX is preparing to bring people to Mars and since last week you can get a picture of what that would look like.
With the TV-show MARS, which premiered Sunday 13h of November, the National Geographic Channel is introducing life on the red planet. The series that is set both in the future and present day, will take a feature film approach with documentary sequences to display the quest to colonize Mars as humans inhabit the planet. The ambition to colonize Mars has been around for some years, but as the technical means of transporting humans to Mars have developed and peoples’ interest in the planet as a potential home for future generations has increased, this is becoming closer to reality.
The driving force in the series is the private aerospace manufacturer and space transport company SpaceX that was founded in 2002 by Tesla Motors CEO and former PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk whose net worth is estimated at $11.7 billion. The vision of SpaceX is to colonize Mars within the next 50 to 100 years. In the series, interviews with Musk and other leading minds within space exploration are interspersed with a fictional narrative about the colonization of Mars in 2033.
Musk sees the colonization of Mars as a step to avoid the extinction of humanity in the event of a global catastrophe. On September 27th 2016, at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Musk pitched the SpaceX plan to bring people to Mars. He began the talk with expressing his concerns about Earth and its future. During the talk Musk presented a step-by-step blueprint of the so called Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) that is made up of totally reusable spaceships that could transport 100 to 200 passengers to Mars or even further distances. The ITS spaceship is not expected to make its first launch until 2022.
The spaceship will be refuelled by tankers after it has reached orbit to maximize the payload – people and cargo – that the craft is able to carry to orbit. By refilling in orbit rather than on the ground it allows the carrier to be smaller in size as well as lower the costs. The conditions on Mars enable propellant to be manufactured for the return flight; meaning it is possible to go back to Earth. The journey to Mars would take about 80 to 150 days, depending on orbital conditions and alignment between Earth and Mars (optimal distance occurs once every 26 months).
Musk emphasizes reusability as a determining factor to lower the costs of spaceship travel. He states that in order to make trips to Mars possible on a large- enough scale to create a selfsustaining city on Mars, full reusabilty is essential. If SpaceX is able to reuse its spaceship it will lower their costs significantly. SpaceX will then be able to o er cheaper tickets to Mars and more people will be able to go. SpaceX also streamlines its production and manufactures roughly 80% of the parts in their rockets which helps to minimize costs. Keeping the manufacturing in house also eases the quality controls. Musk believes that an a ordable price per (return) ticket will be around $200 000, which ultimately could drop to less than $100 000.
At the Astronautical Congress in Mexico, Musk explained SpaceX ́s ambition to build 1000 ITS spaceships that would go on 10 thousand trips over the course of 50 to 100 years. According to the maths that would bring at least 1 million settlers to Mars, which Musk figures would be the requirement for establishing a self-sustaining society on the red planet.
SpaceX has an incredible vision, but the question remains whether their goal is realistic or achievable. Over the short term the space exploration industry is not pro table and the entire project would therefore require a lot of capital. The question remains how SpaceX plans to secure their financial resources, but also how they will convince people to actually go to Mars. Musk has mentioned a Kick- starter campaign and pro ts from their other operations, such as resupplying the International Space Station and putting satellite constellations into orbit, as potential sources of capital.
If Musk and SpaceX are able to convince people to go to Mars, the prices will gradually fall as more people want to go. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome along this journey to colonize Mars and laws of economics might be diffcult to overcome, even more so than the law of physics.
Are you already looking forward to spend Christmas on Mars?