Fresh from becoming the first private US company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, is now eyeing even further afield. According to Space.com, he's been speaking about his plans to start-up a colony (of around 80,000 people) on Mars in the not-too-distant future, with tickets to the planet likely to cost around half a million dollars each.
Speaking to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London earlier this month, Musk envisions sending a group of 10 or so people to the red planet aboard a reusable rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane. Equipped with the kind of equipment needed to sustain life on the martian planet – including but not limited to, says Space.com, “machines to produce fertilizer, methane and oxygen from Mars' atmospheric nitrogen and carbon dioxide and the planet's subsurface water ice.” Transparent domes would also be constructed, and later pressurized to match Mars' atmospheric CO2 to grow Earth crops in Mars' soil.
Having told Space.com that re-purposing the 'Dragon' capsule for the Mars colony mission is out of the question, Musk has yet to reveal the secretive mode of transport needed to ferry passengers and equipment back and forth between Earth and Mars. If reports are accurate, SpaceX is already working on something that might fit the description: a giant re-useable rocket – rumoured to be named the MCT (Mass Cargo Transport or Mars Colony Transport – able to house tens of passengers as well as huge, Mars-bound equipment.
Not that it'll come cheap of course. In his talk, Musk implored the Mars colony mission should be seen as a joint venture between the private sector and government, and estimates it'd cost somewhere in the region of $36 billion to get off the ground, literally speaking. The price of a ticket, he says, must also be affordable. “The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,” Musk said.
"Some money has to be spent on establishing a base on Mars. It’s about getting the basic fundamentals in place. That was true of the English colonies [in the Americas]; it took a significant expense to get things started. But once there are regular Mars flights, you can get the cost down to half a million dollars for someone to move to Mars. Then I think there are enough people who would buy that to have it be a reasonable business case."
Image Credit: NASA
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