As you may be aware, Elon Musk likes to think big. The prime mover behind 21st-century initiatives like SpaceX, Telsa, and SolarCity, Musk has stated publicly that he intends to change the trajectory of history itself, pointing humankind toward a brighter future through technology.
To that end, Musk suggests that one of our first priorities should be getting off the planet.
In the latest edition of the journal New Space, Musk details his plans for colonizing Mars in a modest little proposal titled “Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species.” The article, drawn from Musk’s recent presentation at the International Astronautical Congress, is lengthy and detailed, filled with charts and illustrations that address the many, many practical issues involved with an initial Mars expedition. Musk’s presentation isn’t just pie-in-the-sky speculation; it’s a technical document.
It’s also a little spooky.
“History is going to bifurcate along two directions,” Musk writes in the introduction. “One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event.
“The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go.”
Musk’s article is broken into seventeen separate sections, covering everything from the initial spaceship design to the construction of a propellant plants on Mars — gas stations, in effect, for returning to Earth. Much of the proposal is dedicated to exploring the economic feasibility of transporting people to Mars. Using old NASA economics models, Musk suggests the price tag will be a bit steep.
“Taking an Apollo-style approach, an optimistic cost would be about $10 billion per person,” he writes.
Happily for us 99.99999 Percenters who might like to get out of Dodge, Musk has no intention of using old-fashioned space agency funding models.
“The key is making this affordable to almost anyone who wants to go,” Musk writes. “Based on this architecture, assuming optimization over time, we are looking at a cost per ticket of less than $200,000, maybe as little as $100,000 over time, depending upon how much mass a person takes.”
Stanford professor Scott Hubbard, editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed New Space journal, said that it will be useful for the commercial space industry to have Musk’s vision down on paper and outlined in relative detail. Hubbard has spent more than 40 years in the space industry. He served as NASA’s first Mars program director and currently chairs the SpaceX commercial crew safety advisory panel.
“In my view, publishing this paper provides not only a 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,” Hubbard said.
“There are four key items in Elon’s concept: full re-usability of the space hardware, refilling in orbit, propellant production on Mars, and choosing the right propellant,” Hubbard said. “Of those, I think reusability and propellant production on Mars are the most critical.”
Toward the end of his proposal, Musk suggests that by gradually improving the implementation of the core concepts, mankind’s space-faring ambitions can eventually expand beyond Mars.
“If you have all four of these elements, you can go anywhere in the solar system by planet hopping or moon hopping,” Musk writes. “By establishing a propellant depot, say, on Enceladus or Europa, and then establishing another one on Titan, Saturn’s moon, and then perhaps another one further out on Pluto … this system really gives you the freedom to go anywhere you want in the greater solar system.”