Elon Musk recently revealed that he could have a Mars colony up and running in 6 years. Will the election of Donald Trump put a spanner in the works?
Anyone who has read Elon Musk’s biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, will understand just how outrageously ambitious Elon Musk is. His aim, as repeated in the book and in his conferences, is to make humanity a multi-planetary species as a form of insurance policy, to ensure that humans will live on in the case of a natural catastrophe. Recently, Mr. Musk gave us a few insights into how he hopes to achieve these incredible feats, although he wouldn’t reveal exactly who would be paying for it.
“What I really want to try to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible – like it’s something we can achieve in our lifetimes. He said there were “There are two fundamental paths facing humanity today. One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event. The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”
Musk recently told an audience in his speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico.
In order to get off the ground and on the voyage to the red planet, Musk revealed some new hardware that would be used. First came the multi-stage launch and transport system, which has, in part, been successfully tested a few times by landing on everyone’s favourite drone ship. Next came the Interplanetary Module, which would be sitting on top and have the capacity to carry 100 people; enough to start a working settlement. Musk also revealed that the first ship would be named Heart of Gold in a little tribute to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The reusability of the boosters, which has been of great importance to Musk and SpaceX over the past few years, will be paramount in the operation as they will launch modules into orbit that will refuel the interplanetary spacecraft. It doesn’t end with Mars, as we could also get prepared for trips to moons such as Europa and Enceladus. He also mentioned that they have now the technology to synthesize fuel on the red planet, from water and carbon dioxide.
How much will it cost?
So then comes the important part; how much will it all cost? Because that’s the real kicker, and the spanner in the works that could slow down and even stop the process. Elon Musk has a lot of money and his wealth is growing at a steady rate (compared to mine anyway). But, Musk reckons that it would cost about 10 billion dollars to get each person to Mars and even with his wealth, he could only really get one or two people there. Does a government want to pay 10 billion dollars per person, with possibly very little monetary return on their investment and a gargantuan risk in losing astronauts and setting the space program back years? Would Donald Trump want that risk on his legacy?
Musk assures us that the price will drop over time because of the reusability of the spacecraft and the advance of refueling techniques, but it’s still a big investment to make. Now the government of Barack Obama has come to a close and a new era approaches, what will this mean for Elon’s plans? Will the Donald back up Musk and get spaceflight moving again? Time will tell. We know that Trump is big on rhetoric and barked about business for most of his tenacious campaign. We know that he said a great deal about denying climate change and pulling out of accords, and we know that he isn’t too fond of tax breaks for renewable energy. But, he wouldn’t be the first politician to tell a few lies, would he?
Musk announced at the conference that he would fund the missions with continued missions to the ISS, satellite launches and, in the next few year, manned missions to the ISS. NASA have praised Musk for his enthusiasm and offered support in the form of advisors and experts. Charles Bolden, the NASA chief recently even went as far as to say that he would not be racing Musk to Mars and he would personally congratulate Musk if he beat NASA.
Will he beat NASA to Mars?
SpaceX are notorious for delays. They are often behind schedule and they often miss target dates. This is primarily because they are often doing something that hasn’t been done by private companies before. They are hungry, ambitious and they have a true visionary behind them. This, however, might not be enough to get them to the red planet before NASA. Especially now a new president is at the helm and wants to boast his economic bravado by cost-cutting. Space travel, whilst incredible for the advancement of our civilization, isn’t great for the budget and that is what Trump has promised to deliver on. If Trump surprises a lot of people and invests heavily in NASA and Musk, and urges cooperation between JAXA, ESA, ROSCOSMOS and other organizations, we might just have a chance to make it in 6 years’ time.