Not one to shy away from astronomical ambition, Space X and Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to the stage at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico on Tuesday to announce the strategy behind his plan to make human life multi-planetary.
Since Space X’s inception, Musk, who has sought to revolutionise spaceflight through reusable rockets and cost-effective fuel, has hoped to push the boundaries further.
Addressing the audience, he outlined the details and practical measures required to bring his vision to life.
The project, named the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), will be designed to establish a population on Mars by employing a fully reusable transportation system that will slash the cost of regular spaceflight.
Musk expressed his view that the colonisation of Mars is achievable, believing that given an initial manned trip of 10 people, it will take “40 to 100 years to achieve a fully self-sustaining civilisation” on the planet, with a million expected there within 40 years.
The carbon fibre space crafts of the ITS will have a thrust power of 13000 tons, a lifespan of 30 years and use methane and oxygen, refuelled in orbit or upon landing on Mars and back on Earth.
The choice of fuel is one of four key areas highlighted by Musk that will require full attention to make the mission possible: full reusability of rockets, refuelling in orbit, a propellant plant docked on Mars and use of the correct fuel are mandatory. Meeting these criteria will enable Space X to offer flights to the red planet at a reduced rate of around $200,000 – a fraction of the $10bn cost estimated by the Space X CEO if people were sent by traditional methods.
For Musk, the chance to go to Mars represents the chance to save human life. He believes that the future will deviate along two paths: one in which an event hastens the extinction of Homo sapiens on Earth, and one in which humans can become “a space-faring civilisation and a multi-planetary species.”
The matter is an acutely existential one, and a quick-glance at Musk’s track-record will make it difficult to doubt his capabilities of overcoming the obstacles in the way of the 140 million mile journey.
There are of course a number of obstacles currently blockading the path, such as the issue of protecting people from the radiation of deep space, as well as the ethical and moral quandaries of setting up a functioning society.
The fleet of spaceships which Musk suggested jokingly would be “kind of like Battlestar Galactica”, are ones which no longer occupy the pages of science fiction but the near future of human space travel.