Space

SpaceX and Mars: What planet is Elon Musk living on?

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reckons that not only will he be sending humans to Mars in the not-too-distant-future, but also that the mission will be a starting point to build a permanent settlement on the red planet! Assuming all goes to plan, Musk believes that a self-sustaining city could take shape as early as 2050. But does he have planning permission? And will he be able to get hold of tradesmen on Mars to build it?

There are also other questions which need answering regarding the health hazards of prolonged space travel, radiation, weightlessness, and habitation in the low gravity of Mars (which is just 38% of the gravity of Earth).

Elon said, “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilisation is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

Musk also said he thought that a million tons of material would need to be transported to Mars from Earth – as apparently there is no B&Q or reputable builder’s merchant there!

Elon was very positive this week during the SpaceX Starship live presentation, saying “This is the first point in the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth that it has been possible. We need to seize the opportunity and do it as quickly as possible. I want to be frank: Civilisation is feeling a little fragile these days.”

After an animated video of an imaginary Mars colony serviced by SpaceX vehicles, Mr. Musk shouted, “Let’s make it real!”

For several years, SpaceX has been working on Starship, which would be the most powerful rocket ever. It would also – unlike any previous rocket – be entirely reusable. That has the potential for greatly cutting the cost of sending payloads to orbit – less than $10 million to take 100 tons to space – and it may be possible within a few years, according to Mr Musk.

Test flight disasters

Over the past few years, SpaceX has made a series of test flights of the top part of the spacecraft that is to go to orbit and then return, showing how it might belly-flop in the atmosphere and then land. There have been mixed results in the test flights, with more than one ending in an explosion. To reach orbit requires the use of an even larger booster stage, known as Super Heavy, with dozens of engines. That has not yet been tested.

Musk has routinely made schedule predictions which turned out to be far too optimistic. When he first talked of his Mars rocket, back in 2016, he said that the first test trip to Mars, without people aboard, would launch in 2022, and that the first people going to Mars would be leaving two years later.

Musk then gave an update in September 2019, predicting that the first orbital flight would occur within six months. Now, with 2022 already here, SpaceX still hasn’t tried an orbital launch of Starship…

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