Entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk has made his big pitch to start a human colony on Mars by 2024.
Star engineer Elon Musk unveiled an ambitious plan late Tuesday for a human colony on Mars as early as 2024. According to Musk, his company SpaceX is working on a new rocket and capsule capable of bringing 100 people to the red planet at a time.
Once the infrastructure is in place, SpaceX envisions flying to Mars once very 25 months, when it is best aligned with the Earth. One major difference between Musk's plan and similar endeavors like Netherlands-based Mars One is that because a key business strategy of SpaceX is to reuse spacecraft, colonists would not be signed up for a one-way ticket.
"The number of people willing to move to Mars is much greater if they have the option of returning, even if they never do," Musk said at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara., Mexico.
He added the caveat, however, that the risk of accidents and fatality remains a major risk of space travel.
"The risk of fatality will be high. There's no way around it. Basically, are you prepared to die, and if that's OK then you're a candidate for going," he said during his presentation.
Another important factor is cementing his plan is to keep costs down, the inventor told the audience. He estimated it would take $10 billion to finance the large colony SpaceX hopes for.
"You can't create a self-sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $10 billion per person," the investor told the audience. "Our goal is to get it roughly equivalent to (the) cost of a median house in the United States, about $200,000."
He addd that the trip to Mars would be "fun" - and that the capsule bring people to Mars would have restaurants, games, and movies.
Hurdles to overcome
Musk's grandiose plan also includes eventually developing technology for terraforming – the process of turning an alien planet's ground and atmosphere into earth-like conditions.
Mars lies some 225 million kilometers (140 million miles) from Earth. The journey there would take between six and nine months, though Musk said his newly designed craft would cut travel time down to three months. NASA has agreed to help with communications and consulting in exchange for SpaceX's flight data.
The company's plan remains an extremely lofty one, for even after safety, financial, and transport kinks are worked out, thus far the largest spacecraft that has been able to land on Mars was the one-ton Curiosity rover. That and SpaceX's two recent accidents that resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment when rockets exploded may prove bigger hurdles than Musk anticipates.