Elon Musk & SpaceX’s plans for a city on Mars
Later today, at the International Aeronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, something incredible will happen. Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX (and Tesla) is giving a keynote talk entitled “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species”. I like to see it as the dawning of a new era for our species.
The talk is going to be streamed live so for those of us not fortunate enough to be in the hall we can watch it at:
The timing will be:
- Local (Mexican) time: 13.30-14.30
- British Summer Time: 19.30-20.30
- Eastern Daylight Time: 14.30-15.30
- And so on…
It will sound like science fiction, but it is not. Those who think the future of space exploration still belongs to countries and national space agencies may expect NASA to reach one of Mars’ moons (as that’s so much easier) around 2040. Elon Musk is aiming to send the first humans in the middle of the next decade.
His Red Dragon astronaut capsule is aiming to go as early as 2018 and from then on, in the launch window that occurs every 26 months, more missions will follow. Those of us following the mission have been anticipating the official announcement of the Mars Colonial Transporter, designed to take 100 people at a time to the red planet. Musk teased us last week that the vessel needs a new name as it will actually be able to go much further.
This blog post is the first “official” announcement that I am writing a book about Musk’s plans for Mars called The Real Martian explaining the rationale for accelerating the human colonization of space and SpaceX’s specific plans for making this happen.
This is no Apollo Programme doing it for the prestige – to be first. The aim is to create a self-sustaining human civilization on another world. By the end of the century the plan will be for a million people to live there. The space race is shifting from governments to private corporations. Musk’s SpaceX is joined by Jeff Bezos’ (the founder of Amazon’s) Blue Origin and also by Robert Bigelow’s aerospace company (which has a trial inflatable habitat currently attached to the International Space Station).
However, it’s important to realize that the entire purpose of SpaceX has been to create a colony on Mars. People know it for the Dragon craft that supplies the International Space Station and the incredible rockets that launch satellites and then land back down on a barge in the ocean. But they may not have grasped that the reason for vertical landing rockets with their retro thrusters is because that’s the only way to land safely on Mars.
The space shuttle used to glide back from orbit but still needed the longhest runway on Earth to land safely; Mars’ atmosphere simply isn’t thick enough to contemplate such a strategy, so new Mars-specific technologies had to be invented. We’re used to other capsules splashing down in the oceans or, Tim Peake-style, hitting the Kazakh Steppes pretty hard. The new Dragon capsule that will take astronauts to the space station next year is designed to land anywhere in the solar system, whether that’s the White House lawn or a Martian plateau.
Finally, we are living in the future. It’s becoming oh so exciting and I hope everyone, like me, wants to hang on for the ride.