Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of the private spaceflight company SpaceX, wants to help establish a Mars colony of up to 80,000 people by ferrying explorers to the Red Planet for perhaps $500,000 a trip.
In Musk's vision, the ambitious Mars settlement program would start with a pioneering group of fewer than 10 people, who would journey to the Red Planet aboard a huge reusable rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane.
"At Mars, you can start a self-sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big," Musk told an audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on Nov. 16. Musk was there to talk about his business plans, and to receive the society's gold medal for his contribution to the commercialization of space.
Accompanying the founders of the new Mars colony would be large amounts of equipment, including machines to produce fertilizer, methane and oxygen from Mars' atmospheric nitrogen and carbon dioxide and the planet's subsurface water ice.
The Red Planet pioneers would also take construction materials to build transparent domes, which when pressurized with Mars' atmospheric CO2 could grow Earth crops in Martian soil. As the Mars colony became more self sufficient, the big rocket would start to transport more people and fewer supplies and equipment. [Future Visions of Human Spaceflight]
Musk's architecture for this human Mars exploration effort does not employ cyclers, reusable spacecraft that would travel back and forth constantly between the Red Planet and Earth -- at least not at first
"Probably not a Mars cycler; the thing with the cyclers is, you need a lot of them," Musk told Space.com. "You have to have propellant to keep things aligned as (Mars and Earth's) orbits aren't (always) in the same plane. In the beginning you won't have cyclers."
Musk also ruled out SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which the company is developing to ferry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit, as the spacecraft that would land colonists on the Red Planet. When asked by Space.com what vehicle would be used, he said, "I think you just land the entire thing."
Asked if the "entire thing" is the huge new reusable rocket -- which is rumored to bear the acronymic name MCT, short for Mass Cargo Transport or Mars Colony Transport -- Musk said, "Maybe."
Musk has been thinking about what his colonist-carrying spacecraft would need, whatever it ends up being. He reckons the oxygen concentration inside should be 30 to 40 percent, and he envisions using the spacecraft's liquid water store as a barrier between the Mars pioneers and the sun.
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