Are we exclusively Earthlings, or should we go the way of the Jetsons and leave our planet’s atmosphere for somewhere a little more out there?
Tech mogul Elon Musk hasn’t taken the giant step for mankind yet, but he has taken that one small step for man by publishing a paper on why he believes we should be an interplanetary species, which you can actually read for free until July 5. Musk is optimistic that the paper will start getting people’s imaginations to take off with his ideas for interplanetary transport.
“I think there are really two fundamental paths,” Musk insists in the paper. “One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event.” His alternative in case of a zombie apocalypse? Mars.
Musk’s vision involves using his upcoming Raptor Engine (the name alone is badass), whose development is still in progress, to power the reusable spaceship and booster he calls the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). It’s only supposed to be the most powerful rocket ever dreamed up by the human brain. Try a capability for launching 300 tons into low Earth orbit, more than twice what NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket could haul. As if that doesn’t get mind-blowing enough, Musk predicts this dynamic duo will also be thrice as strong as his current Falcon 9 rocket’s Merlin engines, and shoot through space with no less than 42 of them.
Now comes the part where Musk envisions turning humans into Martians. He ultimately sees at least a thousand of these ITS spaceships blasting a hundred people each out of Earth orbit, eventually populating the Red Planet with a million people—at least those who dare.
Mars colonization hinges on the reusability of ITS ships, which will ideally be able to venture into deep space anywhere from 12 to 15 times and soar back into Earth orbit around 100 times. They will first be fueled on Earth and then run on methane-based propellant manufactured on Mars after breaking its nearly nonexistent atmosphere and landing on the dusty red landscape. Reusable measures could bring the price of a ticket to extraterrestrial existence from what would have been $10 billion to an estimated $200,000. Not that everyone will want to navigate, let alone live in, the final frontier.
"There is a huge amount of risk. It is going to cost a lot," acknowledged Musk. "There is a good chance we will not succeed, but we are going to do our best and try to make as much progress as possible."
If you want to be one of the first Martians (at least that we know of), buckle in and brace yourself, because this could all be happening in the next decade.