Manned Missions To Mars Are Closer To Reality: Elon Musk
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
SpaceX has made a lot of progress over the past handful of years, securing a multi-mission contract with NASA to supply the International Space Station, developing better and cheaper rocket launch systems, and working toward a possible deal to launch military payloads into space. But SpaceX and its founder, Musk, also have bigger goals: colonizing Mars.
Last week during an International Space Development Conference, Musk told an audience that Mars is a real goal and he wants to make it happen in his lifetime. He said that SpaceX has made significant progress toward achieving that goal and is much closer to establishing a self-sustaining, permanent base on the Red Planet, TechnoBuffalo reports. He did admit, however, that things are not moving along as fast as he would like, but is still confident in his dreams.
The key to reaching Mars may rely on SpaceX’s reusable rockets. Musk noted that the current conditions on the Martian landscape makes it impossible to land heavy equipment, but SpaceX is hammering out the details to one day make such a landing possible. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which is used to launch the Dragon resupply craft into space for ISS missions, is being improved. As well, SpaceX has plans to develop an even more advanced version of this launcher, called the Falcon Heavy rocket.
“The reason SpaceX was created was to accelerate development of rocket technology, all for the goal of establishing a self-sustaining, permanent base on Mars,” Musk said at the conference, as cited by Space.com. “And I think we’re making some progress in that direction — not as fast as I’d like.”
A successful reusable rocket test last month is a critical step in the process of one day sending manned missions to Mars, Musk said. During the test, SpaceX launched a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket and then returned the first stage back to Earth for a vertical soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida. That mission also put the company’s Dragon capsule into space for its third resupply mission to the ISS.
While the first stage didn’t survive the landing in the rough seas, Musk said SpaceX will try to recover a returned Falcon 9 booster from the ocean later this year, and will attempt a ground-based landing by the year’s end and reusing a Falcon 9 first stage in 2015, according to Space.com’s Tariq Malik.
“We’re close to at least recovering and reusing the first stage,” Musk said. “I think that if we can demonstrate recovery and reuse of the first stage that will be really something.”
If Musk can successfully develop a spacecraft capable of traveling to, and then landing on, Mars, he said that it would be relatively inexpensive in space travel terms. For about $500,000 per person, a ride to Mars is significantly less than the some $50 million that NASA has been paying Russia for a single seat to the space station aboard Soyuz, and is more bang for your buck than the $250,000 Richard Branson’s company is charging for a few minutes in space if and when his SpaceShipTwo flier launches.
“There will be those who can afford to go, and those who want to go,” Musk said, according to Space.com. “I think if we can achieve that intersection, then it will happen … and, hopefully, it will happen before I’m dead.”
“Mars is what drives him,” Louis Friedman, an astronautics engineer who has known Musk for a decade, told San Jose Mercury News. “From a psychological point of view, if you’re stuck on Earth, humankind has limits — and Elon isn’t the kind of guy who likes to live with limits.”
Musk, who was born and raised in South Africa, had a love for comics and science fiction and flew with his father, who was a bush pilot. After attending the University of Pretoria in South Africa and Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, Musk founded his first Internet startup. With the sale of that company, he founded PayPal, which he sold to eBay for $1.5 billion.
Forming SpaceX in 2002, Musk began to realize his dream of space travel. And after launching other successful ventures, such as Solar City and Tesla Motors, Musk is now focusing most of his attention on that lifelong dream.
In a redOrbit article from August 2012, Musk shared his thoughts about one day sending man to Mars and thought it would be possible within 12 to 15 years. He said he hoped SpaceX could one day make it possible for people to thrive on the Red Planet and establish businesses there.
“Mars is the only place in the solar system where it’s possible for life to become multi-planetarian,” Musk said in an interview with Nightline at the time. “We could make Mars like Earth… it’s more than our life raft, it’s like backing up the biosphere.”
Musk has publicly described Mars as the ideal location for an off-world settlement. He has referred to the alien world as a “fixer-upper planet” that could sustain human life someday, explaining that the other rocky worlds in the inner solar system – Mercury and Venus – are too hostile for human life.