Other stories filed under Features
Making it to Mars
How Elon Musk plans to get humanity there
September 29, 2017
A Martian colony sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, far off into the future – but interplanetary travel may be closer than you’d think. Elon Musk, owner of Tesla and founder of SpaceX- a privately owned space exploration company- plans to send immigrants on the 33.9 million mile journey as early as 2024.
Musk argues that the journey is necessary; either humans become an interplanetary species or the species will die out on Earth. Mars specifically was chosen because it is close, has water and other resources and is similar to Earth in many ways. They have nearly the same day lengths (24 hours vs. 24 hours 40 minutes) and land masses (keeping in mind Mars has no oceans), and both planets hold the capability of hosting plant life. Mars is the perfect Earth 2.0: similar, just red and lifeless – Earth’s ginger cousin, if you will.
The interesting thing about Musk’s proposal, besides the nearness of its starting date, is how he plans on getting there. He is designing rockets that can be used upwards of 15 times to be launched from Earth to Mars and back again. The rocket itself will be placed on a booster, which will be shot up into orbit. Then, the booster will come down, and a fueling satellite will refuel the spaceship. Once Earth and Mars align correctly, which will happen about once every 2 years, the spaceship will set off from orbit and land on Mars, and then the same process will take place to launch the spaceship from Mars to Earth.
According to Elon Musk’s “Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species,” a self-sustaining colony on Mars can’t work until the colony has at least 1,000,000 people. Using only one ship, carrying 100 people, this would take over 20,000 years. Fortunately, Musk has a brilliant solution: build a lot of spaceships. He wants to eventually send 1,000 ships full of people at a time, hopefully carrying anywhere from 100 to up to 200 on future ships. Using this method, he thinks that a fully self-sustaining colony can be made in fewer than 100 years. The only problem is finding people who are willing to go.
The current cost of sending someone to Mars is extreme: about $10 billion. This creates a very small number of people with the means to go, none of whom actually want to go. Musk proposes cutting down the price by 5,000,000% by taking an all new approach to space travel. First and foremost are the reusable rockets, then there is the use of a booster instead of a three-tiered rocket. Refueling in space as opposed to loading up the fuel on the ground can reduce the price by 500%. Musk also plans to make propellant on Mars by using the carbon dioxide in the air and water in the soil to make a methane-based fuel, lowering the cost further. When all is said and done, the ticket price should be as low as $200,000- not bad for a move across space.
His ideas for an interplanetary transport system have implications not just pertaining to Mars, but also to travel throughout the solar system by way of planet-hopping. If he can pull it off, SpaceX may well be the future of space travel.
Photo by Maria Koliopoulos
Opinion: Moving to Mars Won’t Be Any Time Soon
Why transporting people to Mars won’t be happening for a while
As time progresses, different names in space exploration have set their eyes on Mars. They plan to start by moving people to Mars and making a terraforming effort to make it more inhabitable. Terraforming is changing a planet to make it more inhabitable. While they do know that terraforming won’t happen anytime soon, they think that we can put humans on Mars within the upcoming years. This colonization cannot happen within our generation or any generation coming up.
Focusing on SpaceX and Elon Musk’s plan, he proposes that we build a large rocket. In fact, according to National Geographic, he plans to build a rocket that when put together will be 400 feet tall and is supposed to be 3.5 times more powerful than the largest rocket NASA has built, the Saturn V. Budgeting for this would be astronomical, costing around 200,000$ per person, and he plans to send 1,000,000 people within 50 years. Musk does have a slight advantage though, he runs a private organization, so, therefore, he doesn’t have to work with government funds and the limitations that come with that. Despite this, he still has to find the funding and the people that it would take to send such an expensive expedition to Mars.
Another issue that could arise would be human adaptation to such extreme environments. Humans by themselves would not be able to live with current conditions without heavy support, but living with so much apparatus would cause an issue for a somewhat normal lifestyle. I think that this would cause a big issue to anyone attempting a life on Mars. The issue of living would become more and more difficult as replacing certain parts would become difficult, and the user would have to be extremely cautious as to not damage any of the inexpensive suit and other systems that would be on their person at any given moment.
We do know Mars, but we don’t know enough. According to NASA.gov, they have been searching Mars’ patterns and different environments since we got our first close-up picture of the planet in 1965. They also state that “Every time we feel close to understanding Mars, new discoveries send us straight back to the drawing board to revise existing theories.” As far as we know it is somewhat similar to Earth, with its varied terrain and weather patterns, but what’s underneath? We don’t even have any idea if there is life or any way that life could be easily sustainable. Not to mention the atmosphere of Mars is not made to defend against the radiation we see from the Sun, Musk states that “The radiation thing is often brought up, but I think it’s not too big of a deal.” He takes this problem too casually even though the radiation will probably lead to death for some or many. Sending a human up there would just prove to be too dangerous and life-threatening.
I think the mission to colonize Mars will be possible, eventually. I do not think that the dream is going to be reachable in anytime soon. The risks of death and disease are just simply too great. Until we can find a more protective and sustainable plan, I don’t think we should be looking to Mars as a place to live.
Photo by Maria Koliopoulos
Opinion: Mars Will Soon Be Within Reach
Why colonization will be begin sooner than you might think
Many have called to the stars trying to find other life in the universe, but the call has been unanswered. We know that life on earth is unique, intelligent life even moreso. Humanity has only existing for a blink of the eye in the cosmos, and its existence is not guaranteed. At any moment something could happen to bring a mass extinction of life on earth: asteroids, nuclear war, or maybe a cataclysm we don’t even know about. Extinction is common and we are in a precarious place. Unless we begin to expand, humanity will eventually encounter an extinction event that will end us. Many groups have worked hard on moving past our planet and reaching nearby celestial beings. In 66 years humanity went from their first flight, to putting a man on the moon. SpaceX has set its eyes on Mars and has made some great advancements in the short time it’s been around. I think SpaceX is likely to begin colonization of mars within 10-25 years.
SpaceX has had an amazing history; going from nothing but a group of rocket engineers with a billionaire in a warehouse to a major launch provider that has set many firsts in the aerospace industry. They are one of the 5 groups to have gone to space and returned, the first commercial company to dock with the international space station, and the ONLY entity to have recovered an orbital class booster and fly it again. That last point is huge for both the aerospace industry and colonization of Mars.
Unlike their competitors, SpaceX isn’t bloated in spending. NASA has to outsource parts from all over the country in order to receive funding from the states, but that massively raises costs as well, creating a tight budget. ULA has little aspiration in space, besides launching satellites. They don’t innovate, instead, they buy Cold War-era rocket parts from Russia. SpaceX produces everything they fly in their own factory for a fraction of the price, on time, and to the high degree of quality required for rocketry. If you add the fact that SpaceX is able to reuse rockets, the price is a fraction of the those the competition offers. If you want to send thousands of people to mars, it needs to be at an achievable price.
SpaceX is always focused on the Mars mission. While generating income by launching satellites, they’ve been making advancements in rocket technology and practicing maneuvers that will be important for the mission. Some noteworthy developments include making the largest carbon-fiber fuel tank, producing the Raptor engine with a mind-blowing 99% chemical efficiency, and making a reusable rocket in order to slash the costs of going to space by up to three orders of magnitude. This has all happened in less than 15 years of the company’s existence, and it seems that its growth will be exponential. I say exponentially because SpaceX improves with every launch. Recently they’ve proved themselves able to launch once a week, an unheard of rate in the industry. They’re planning to be able to launch once per day after they construct their spaceport in southern Texas.
One criticism about SpaceX is that the company runs on “Elon time” that is, that the CEO oftentimes will announce outlandish timeframes and end up meeting their goals around 3 months, to possibly years, later. As of recently though the company has been closing that time gap and rapidly making progress. There are already several things coming up soon for SpaceX. Less than a month ago, they showed their amazing spacesuit design.
On Sept. 29th, SpaceX will provide an updated plan for their Mars missions. They’re going to unveil the new design for the Interplanetary Transport Ship, or the ITS. The ITS is going to be the spaceship to travel to Mars, and they expect it to travel even further beyond. The Falcon Heavy will be taking to the sky this November, opening up SpaceX to launch heavier and farther. The DragonV2 will the United States’ main spacecraft for sending American astronauts, alongside Boeing’s CST-100 by 2018. While they might arrive later than they’re planning, they’re very likely to be on mars much sooner than people think.