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Looking ahead to Mars base, Elon Musk says there’s a ‘good chance’ astronauts could die there

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Sep 4, 2020, 2:33 PM EDT (Updated)

SpaceX’s Elon Musk is already flying astronauts to the international space station, and developing the rockets and ships that will take astronauts to the moon and Mars. But what about once we actually get there? Yeah, he’s thinking about that too — and he knows the next step could be the hardest of all.

Speaking at the recent virtual “Humans to Mars” conference, Musk opened up about the development of the company’s new Starship, a reusable rocket system he sees as the future of space travel. The set-up will be capable of transporting an immense amount of cargo, or around 100 passengers, to space. He says there’s “good progress” on getting those crafts and massive rockets designed and built, though it will obviously take some time to create a production system for something so ambitious.

SpaceX's Starship prototype. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

He says he’s not sure exactly how long it will take for humans to reach Mars (current plans call for boots on the red dirt within the decade), but he’s already thinking about what comes after the first couple of visits and return trips. Namely, how do we set up a permanent settlement on an alien planet? He already has designs for how a base could work, but minces no words about the type of challenge it will be.

“And getting to Mars, I think, is not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is building a base, building a city on Mars that is self-sustaining,” Musk said via CNBC. “We’re going to build a propellant plant, an initial Mars base – Mars Base Alpha – and then get it to the point where it’s self-sustaining … I want to emphasize that this is a very hard and dangerous, difficult thing, not for the faint of heart.

He added: “Good chance you’ll die, it’s going to be tough going, but it will be pretty glorious if it works out.”

Gulp.

Which, Musk is almost certainly right. If there’s one thing that is infinitely consistent about space travel, it’s that it’s dangerous. Extremely dangerous. There’s a reason they test rockets and ships dozens and dozens and dozens of times before they even consider putting a human passenger on board. Any tiny, minor problem can mean life or death when you’re hundreds, thousands or millions of miles from Earth.

So yeah, if you plan on getting your ass to Mars in the next few decades, just take Musk’s words to heart. It could be awesome, but it’ll also be dangerous.

 

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