Elon Musk, the brilliant tech entrepreneur and founder of the space exploration company SpaceX, hit the stage on Tuesday for the 2016 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) to unveil his highly anticipated plan to colonize Mars in the near future. After spending the last few weeks building up hype for the Interplanetary Transportation System, their conceptual spacecraft system that he recently revealed on Twitter could actually travel beyond Mars, Musk is finally sharing his ingenious plan to colonize our neighboring planet with the world.
"What I really want to do try to achieve here is make Mars seem possible, make it seem as though it’s something we can do in our lifetimes, and that you can go,” Musk said at the start of his keynote.
From there, the SpaceX founder detailed why it’s critical we become a multi-planet species in the near future and exactly how he plans to make this sci-fi dream into a reality. During the speech, Musk claims Mars is the greatest chance for us to become an interplanetary species, as it’s the closest and best-suited planet on which to create a self-sustaining civilization. At the moment, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of getting humans to Mars is the cost of flight, which is about $10 billion a person using traditional methods.
SpaceX is working to bring that price down to the median cost of a house in the United States, which is certainly still expensive, but much more obtainable.
According to the SpaceX plan, these long-term missions to Mars will take place every two years, and each ship will hold an estimated 100 to 200 people per flight. Musk also claimed that, from the moment the first ship goes to Mars, it will take about 40 to 100 years of recurring missions to create a self-sustaining civilization on the planet. To make this conceptual idea a reality, Musk claims that there are four elements they must implement to ensure the success of their plan.
The first is full reusability, which essentially means that the flight system must be reusable after the mission is complete. Secondly, the jounreying spaceships should first be loaded into orbit before going straight to Mars, that way they can refuel in orbit before setting off to the Red Planet, which will reduce ticket prices by around 500%. Musk also suggests that we need to produce propellant on Mars as well, that way the reusable ships can make their way back to Earth. Lastly, we need to use the right propellent, which based on their experimentation, SpaceX claims to be Deep-Cryo Methalox.
Throughout the intriguing talk, Musk went over every detail of the plan, from how to make the journey from Earth more affordable to the methods of terraforming Mars to make it more compatible with human life. He also previewed a breathtaking animated video that showcases the entire process, which eventually ends with a group astronauts successfully terraforming Mars. You can watch the full keynote here.
All in all, the presentation seemed more like the plot to a new science fiction movie than a plan for future space travel to Mars. But, it’s clear by Musk’s determination to colonize, along with his confidence in his company’s plan, that becoming an interplanetary is truly the new reality for humanity, not to mention the only way we will survive as a species post-Earth.