US private space exploration company SpaceX has announced that it aims to start flying human compatible hardware to Mars as early as 2018. Elon Musk, the company’s founder and Chief Designer has long advocated that humans need to take the revolutionary step of not just sending people to the red planet one day but also setting up a colony there to ensure the long term survival of the human race.
Lofty goals indeed. It’s easy to worry about what the weather will be like this coming weekend, or how you will fund your children’s education etc, but Elon Musk worries about things like how to save the world and the people who live on it. (No, he really does actually want to save the world and all the people on it, and his enterprises reflect these core beliefs).
SpaceX and Musk intend to use their (as yet unflown) Falcon Heavy Rocket to transport an (unmanned) Dragon V2 capsule to Mars in 2018. This would represent a payload of between 5-10 times that which has being sent to Mars before by NASA. If this is achieved successfully it would represent a significant milestone in our attempts to send people to Mars and return them safely to earth. But the challenges still remain mind-boggingly difficult and expensive.
Falcon Heavy Rocket
The Falcon Heavy Rocket is on course to be second only in size and lift capability to the mighty Saturn V Moon rocket of the 1960’s that brought man to the moon.
If the plan works, all three stages of the rocket will also fly themselves back to earth so that they can be flown again on future missions which is another incredible innovation from the mind of Elon Musk.
Dragon 2 Capsule
The Dragon V2 Capsule has being designed to take humans into space and return them safely to earth.
It will also have an evolutionary propulsion system that will allow the capsule to land itself like a helicopter on land, avoiding the need for a splashdown at sea. Again, this is a massive innovative step as it means that the capsule can, in theory be flown into space again, further reducing the cost of space exploration.
Musk’s entrepreneurial achievements are pretty epic. So far he has brought the world PayPal (originally X.com); Tesla Motors, the world’s most innovative electric-car company; SpaceX, the first private space company to send missions to the International Space Station and the first organisation outside of The US, USSR/Russia & China to send a Space Capsule into low earth orbit and retrieve it successfully; SolarCity, the second largest supplier of Solar Powered systems in the US; Hyperloop, a transportation system that aims to transport human passengers through pressurised tubes as speeds of almost 1,000 km per hour; and OpenAI, a non-profit organisation dedicated to making Artificial Intelligence work for the good of all humanity .
Putting humans on Mars has more benefits to mankind that just the lofty goal of ensuring we have a 2nd home if every we need it. What has a much larger positive impact in the short-medium term are the innovations and breakthroughs that will be achieved as we try to find solutions to the monster challenge of finding ways in which we can get to Mars and other locations in deep space. Solutions will be found that will/should improve our lives in many ways from human nutrition, energy, propulsion, sustainability, etc.
To conclude, it provides that chance for the world to get truly excited about a once in a century mission that can give hope to millions of people on earth and change our own world for the better.