Elon Musk wants to take over Mars. But you knew that. What you didn’t know is that while the SpaceX mogul is planning on making humans Martian in an eerily short timespan of about seven years, NASA is leery of the entire thing.
Back up for half a second. Musk wants to launch a manned mission by 2024, one thing that is making the space agency nervous. You’re either blindingly brilliant or dangerously unwise when you’re a decade ahead of NASA. While no one can really see far enough into the future to be sure which of these highly emphatic phrases can describe Musk’s master plan at this point, here it is.
By 2022, Musk wants to launch his BFR (that’s Big … uh, frakking … Rocket) into space with a cargo payload so it can touch down and survey the Red Planet for any traces of water, which is highly unlikely on the sun-blasted surface, and anything potentially hazardous to human survival, which is far more likely. Two years later, the first human boots would kick up clouds of reddish dust, followed by a duo of cargo vessels that would supply the mission. Another mission after that would establish a starter colony and start up a rocket fuel production plant that would turn Martian methane and oxygen into propellant to shoot spaceships back to Earth.
“We need to learn how to operate away from the comfort of Earth,” said Jason Crusan, NASA’s lead for planning future Mars missions, in an interview. “We don’t have an opportunity to learn that if we go straight to Mars.”
The space agency wants to be positive that we can actually survive in space without killing each other, which is why they are running proto-Martian habitat experiments like HI-SEAS to test the psychological effects of isolation, and without needing support from the home planet when we could be orbiting as far as 250 million miles from Earth. Rocket fuel produced on Mars is just the beginning. We’re going to need to be self-sufficient when it comes to food, medical care, equipment breakdown, and everything else that could conceivably go wrong. There is no “Houston, we have a problem” here.
As for tech and other equipment, Crusan stressed that “We’re going to demonstrate operations far away from Earth. We want to demonstrate the propulsion systems we have.”
Instead of immediately powering over to Mars, NASA’s vision involves test runs on our moon and Martian moon Phobos before humans begin to set up pods on the Red Planet itself. Bonus: Phobos is a potential refueling station because it is believed to have water that could be split into its hydrogen and oxygen components to send rockets blasting through space.
Musk’s opinion on NASA’s proposals still unknown. There is, however, one thing the internet knows by now. And you've got to love that ambition: