Less than a month after SpaceX’s Falcon 9 exploded ignominiously on its launchpad, taking a Facebook satellite down in flames with it and drawing the ire of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk has shared an infinitely more audacious dream of his– establishing a “self-sustaining city” on Mars and selling routine commercial spaceflights to the Red Planet.
This is necessary, Musk averred, because of the looming apocalypse. It’s a matter of staying here and waiting for an inevitable extinction event to occur or become a spacefaring species, “which I hope you would agree that is the right way to go,” Musk said wryly, wresting laughter from the members of the audience who were hard put to disagree. Suffice it to say, that is motivation enough to get going, though for a sense of proportion, it’s helpful to know that Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking believes such a global cataclysm will become a near certainty in one thousand to ten thousand years.
His keynote talk, simply titled “Making Humanity a Multiplanetary Species”, took place at the International Astronautical Conference in Mexico. In it, Musk shared his vision of offering regular flights to Mars on SpaceX’s theoretical Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) for the very affordable price of $200,000– a steep drop from the roughly $10 billion it would cost per person to travel to Mars using current technologies. Ultimately, Musk says he would like to see that figure drop even further, below $100,000.
The ITS will be capable of ferrying 100 tons of cargo (including people) to Mars using 40 Raptor rocket engines, each generating 680,000 pounds of thrust. Musk hopes to transport 100-200 people in as little as 80 days and promises that the trip will be really fun, with games, movies, and restaurants. After that, it’s a matter of terraforming the barren red wastes of an alien planet into a lush, verdant colony capable of sustaining human life.
SpaceX has commissioned a slickly directed and edited CGI movie, musically accompanied by a soaring soundtrack, to give us a better idea of what Musk is picturing. The four-minute clip begins with cinematic shots of the ITS slipping the surly bonds of Earth and concludes on a stirring note, with a bunch of intrepid astronauts peering out at the Martian landscape.