BY KEVIN GARCIA
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk delivered his well thought-out plan to colonize Mars at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress this past week. His ambitious plan involves a new wave of technology: reusable rockets, fuel tanks and high-powered engine spaceships that could blast off from Earth and begin colonizing Mars within the next decade. But such plans will take a lot of money and a lot more luck.
Musk’s plan is to become a “multi planetary species” via his Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). The 254 foot-tall rocket booster will be primarily made of carbon fiber and feature 42 Raptor engines that will contain methane and oxygen for the control thrusters. The spaceship that sits on top of the rocket booster will be 162 feet tall and 56 feet wide and have 9 Raptor engines of its own respectively. This spaceship will be capable of transporting 100 to 200 passengers per trip. Together, the rocket booster and the spaceship will be roughly 416 feet in height, making it the tallest spaceflight system ever built.
The architectural system of ITS can be explained in seven stages. First, the booster along with the spaceship, will launch into orbit reaching maximum velocity of 5,375 miles per hour at separation. When the booster successfully separates from the spaceship, the booster will then return to its landing site using 7% of total booster prop load for its booster burning and precise landing back on Earth. Once the booster arrives back on the launch pad, the booster will then be topped with a fuel tanker and sent off into orbit to refuel the spaceship’s fuel tank. Then, when timing is right, the spaceship will turn on its engines and start its 140 million mile journey that could take six to nine months to the red planet. On arrival from interplanetary space, the spaceship made of advanced heat shield material will then enter the atmosphere either capturing into orbit or proceeding directly into landing. After successfully landing on Mars, In-Situ Propellant Production will begin, which involves manufacturing rocket fuel using local Martian resources and launching it back to Earth.
According to Musk, with the today’s current technology, it would cost $10 billion to send one person to Mars but Musk’s plan will cut that down to roughly $200,000 per person. The source of funding will include private sectors, government collaboration, profits from launching satellites for private entities and of course, Musk’s own money. Ultimately, estimates have ranged from $200 billion to $1.5 trillion to fulfill a human Mars mission. SpaceX expects to send an unmanned capsule to Mars by 2018, but has no plans to send humans until 2024.
Why should humans colonize Mars? Putting humans on another planet can assure that the human race continues to evolve in the future. By the end of this century, scientists predict that 20 to 50 percent of total living species on earth could be lost forever. Earth is on the brink of extinction and it’s us humans who are to blame. As we know it now, the world isn’t perfect but what was once there protecting us, is failing. Settling Mars could be the most difficult challenge humans will encounter but this could also represent the pinnacle of human achievement and a glimmer of hope for humanity’s perseverance in the years to come. Elon Musk believes in this future for the human species and with a lot of money and a little bit of luck, he just might succeed in saving us all and making humans a multi-planetary species.