Here's How Elon Musk Will Build the "Transcontinental Railway" to Mars

Monday, 16 October 2017 - 10:10AM
Science News
Monday, 16 October 2017 - 10:10AM
Here's How Elon Musk Will Build the "Transcontinental Railway" to Mars
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We know Elon Musk really wants to put people on Mars - it turns out he wants them to be comfortable too.

In addition to existing plans to create a Martian colony, Musk has announced his space exploration company, SpaceX, also wants to run a regular passenger and cargo shuttle service between Earth and Mars in order to bring goods, supplies, and passengers to and from the Red Planet, creating a solid commercial trade link between the two worlds.

Responding to a question in a recent Reddit AMA, here's how Musk explained SpaceX's plans:

Opening quote
"Our goal is [to] get you there and ensure the basic infrastructure for propellant production and survival is in place. A rough analogy is that we are trying to build the equivalent of the transcontinental railway. A vast amount of industry will need to be built on Mars by many other companies and millions of people."
Closing quote

This definitely sounds like an idea from science fiction, but as much as Musk may like to wax lyrical about his plans for a Martian colony (and he certainly does like to talk about them), things aren't going to be as simple as setting up a spaceship to bounce people back and forth around a single planet.

Mars is anywhere between 18 months and three years away from Earth, depending on the position of the two planets on their orbit around the sun.

This means that either some journeys are going to be a lot quicker than others, or else the regular service that Musk envisions will only leave once or twice in a three-year period to make best use of the short travel times.

Then, of course, there's the hassle of transporting passengers such a long way.

Even with plans for a cryostasis system to keep people unconscious, the process of rocketing to Mars will involve significant training, and it definitely won't be for everyone. At least on the transcontinental express passengers could stretch their legs periodically when the train arrived at station stops. 

The transcontinental express also didn't cost around $200,000 per passenger.

If the prospect of spending two years in a small metal box hurtling through space seems unappealing, paying what it costs the average family to raise a child through high school to get there isn't likely to persuade you either.

Besides, all of the world's current plans for Martian colonies work on the assumption that there'll be some meaningful reason for people to want to work and live on the Red Planet, trapped eternally within a glass bubble like an extra from The Simpsons Movie or Under the Dome.

Musk's plans also assume that Mars would have some kind of export worth carting back to Earth, which given the rough terrain, might not be a better use of our planet's precious resources than harnessing the raw components we have on our home planet.

Nevertheless, plenty of big businesses are rushing to set up supply lines to both Mars and the moon, and from the looks of things, Musk is salivating at the prospect of wholly owning both a Martian colony, along with monopolizing its transportation market.

There's some sweet, sweet vertical integration there to keep him rich, just so long as he can convince enough people to indenture themselves trying to get to his promised alien utopia.

One thing in all of this is certain: Elon Musk views himself as some kind of Space Christopher Columbus or Brigham Young, boldly charting a course into the unknown and taming a wild corner of the desert that appears uninhabitable at first glance.

It might not be wise to underestimate him - he's certainly pulled off some impossibly sci-fi sounding challenges in the past. Only time will tell if this is yet another to add to the growing list.
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