Elon Musk's Plan for a Self-Sustaining Colony on Mars in the Next 100 Years

Tuesday, 04 October 2016 - 1:26PM
Space
SpaceX
Mars
Tuesday, 04 October 2016 - 1:26PM
Elon Musk's Plan for a Self-Sustaining Colony on Mars in the Next 100 Years
Elon Musk is not looking for Helium-3, like Lunar Industries in Duncan Jones Moon. He's not looking for alien life. According to Musk, he's looking for a way to keep humanity alive and provide the next generations with hope.

Last week, we covered Elon Musk's livestream at the International Aeronautical Congress in Guadalajara and came away with the four things SpaceX claims are essential to making humanity a multiplanetary species, which included reusable rockets and a new kind of fuel, called deep cryo methalox. Putting everything together, Musk laid out the plan for an Interplanetary Travel System:



The vision that's presented in the video and Musk's speech really is extraordinary, riding the line between science and what we conceive of as science fiction. One of the most striking mental images of the new ITS is how Musk describes the departure of the fleet of spacecraft once they are delivered into orbit:

Opening quote
As Musk envisions it, fleets of these crew-carrying capsules will remain in Earth orbit until a favorable planetary alignment brings the two planets close together-something that happens every 26 months. "We'd ultimately have upward of a thousand or more spaceships waiting in orbit. And so the Mars colonial fleet would depart en masse," Musk says.
Closing quote

Imagining a wave of ships departing at once hearkens back to a hundred films, books, and TV shows, where shore-bound watchers wave goodbye to a fleet of explorers heading into the unknown. After laying out the practical side of his Interplanetary Travel System and the strategies for making space travel affordable, sustainable, and scalable, Musk came back to why all of this is worthwhile:

Opening quote
"This is not about everyone moving to Mars, this is about becoming multiplanetary...This is really about minimizing existential risk and having a tremendous sense of adventure."
Closing quote


In an interview with National Geographic, Musk went even further, and proposed that a self-sustaining colony of at least a million people could exist on Mars within the next forty to one hundred years.

Opening quote
"The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions: Either we're going to become a multiplanet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we're going be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event."
Closing quote


If Musk can be believed, SpaceX's mission goes beyond making a profit and becomes both a practical and aspirational goal for the human race. Star Trek imagined a future where space travel was the centerpiece of a united humanity, but the space race between the Soviet Union and United States proved that government-controlled space travel could divide humanity as well. Now, with a private company aggressively urging space travel and colonization of other planets with the goal of ensuring humanity's survival, the equation is different. It's not about a nation monopolizing a new space-territory for the glory of the homeland. It's not about ideology or military advantage.

What's more, Musk has laid out a practical plan on a world stage that (unlike some other maverick scientists) has generally met with a positive response from experts, veterans, and average people. Even Bobby Braun, NASA's former chief technologist, endorsed the plan:

Opening quote
"I think the technical outline of the plan is about right. He also didn't pretend that it was going to be easy and that they were going to do it in ten years...I think we can quibble over the numbers and the dollars and the timeframes and all, but we shouldn't lose the fact that this guy went out on the international stage today and just laid it all out on the line...I found it refreshing."
Closing quote


And Musk has been blunt about the risks entailed by his plan, saying "Are you prepared to die? If that's OK, then you're a candidate for going."

Musk's plan for colonizing Mars does one thing better than anything else: it lays out a vision for the future that people can take seriously, something concrete that they can believe in and aspire to. It turns science fiction into just regular old science. In doing that, it's already accomplished one of its goals, which is to give humanity hope for something beyond the Earth.

You can watch the full presentation here.
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