what we know so far

Are you ready to live on Mars? As for the ambitions of eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, that could become a reality in the not so distant future as expected. The South African-Canadian businessman, naturalized North American, intends to colonize the red planet and establish an autonomous city there, which can serve as a home for a million people, making humanity multiplanetary.

Billionaire Elon Musk, who recently completed the purchase of Twitter, aims to create a self-sustaining city on Mars. Image: Goodread Bio/Flickr

Colonizing Mars over the next three decades is perhaps at the top of Musk’s list of most ambitious plans. Among the plans of the SpaceX founder, the CEO of Tesla, the vice president of OpenAI, the president of SolarCity and now the new owner of Twitter, is also implanting chips in people’s brains via Neuralink, the company of which he is founder and CEO.

In 2016, when he announced his grand goal of creating a human colony on Mars, Elon Musk hoped to see a manned mission to our planetary neighbor take place as early as 2024. He later recalculated his plans for 2026, then set 2029 as his goal. If this materializes, the first manned trip to Mars will take place 60 years after the first human landing on the Moon in 1969.

Main challenge to reach Mars, according to Elon Musk

According to Musk, the main obstacle to overcome is financial. He claims his Starship is the most complex spacecraft ever built “by an order of magnitude”, and that his primary criterion for optimization is cost per ton to Earth orbit and possibly even Mars.

“There’s a cost per ton on the surface of Mars where we can afford the cost of maintaining a self-sustaining city,” the exec said during an interview with Lex Friedman’s podcast in January of This year. “Today you couldn’t fly to Mars for even $1 trillion, so we have to get over that. »

At the time, he also pointed out that the strategy for Mars is different from NASA’s Apollo program, which took humans to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. “With Mars, our goal is not to leave footprints and flags and not to return for 50 years. We have to be a multiplanetary species,” the billionaire said, using the term he usually adopts for the fact that humans will not only be able to visit Mars, but also choose to live there.

Starship orbital test flight fails to lift off

However, for all of this to be possible, the ship must first take off. And so far, it has proven increasingly difficult to do.

The Starship consists of a huge first-stage booster called the Super Heavy and a 50-meter-tall spacecraft also nicknamed the Starship. Both will be fully reusable and powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engines, with 33 for the thruster and six for the capsule.

SpaceX president makes optimistic predictions for the
To get astronauts to Mars, SpaceX created the largest space launch system in history, 120 meters high, formed by the Super Heavy booster and the Starship upper stage spacecraft. Image: NASASpaceFlight

If all goes as planned, the next orbital flight test will be performed by the Booster 7 and Ship 24 prototypes. SpaceX has conducted engine tests with both vehicles in recent months at Starbase, the company’s facility in the south. from Texas. .

This test flight will lift off from Starbase, sending the Ship 24 capsule on an orbital journey that will end with a dive landing in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Booster 7 is expected to drop into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas shortly after launch.

Although the radio spectrum license was issued by the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in August, shortly after the completion of the environmental review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it is not of the only approval required for the authorization of the flight.

SpaceX is still awaiting the launch license, a regulatory document that must be issued by the FAA – the same body responsible for granting Starbase’s environmental license, as noted above (and which took nearly six months to complete) .

It is important to note that the expiration date of the document issued by the FCC is until January 3 of the following year. Therefore, if the launch license is issued after this date, SpaceX must apply for a radio spectrum license renewal. That is, the dates must line up, otherwise the ship won’t take off.

At least not from Starbase. But SpaceX is working on building another launch site for the colossal vehicle. The company is modifying the historic Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to accommodate launches of its mega-rocket, which will be the largest and most powerful spacecraft ever launched.

Living in glass domes

Let’s go ahead and imagine that this whole process involving Starship has already been overcome. That the first manned trips to Mars have already been successfully completed. And that, from now on, human beings can live on the red planet. Alright, and how would that be?

Among the Red Mountains, artist's conception of a colony on Mars - HP Mars Home Planet Image
“Between the Red Mountains”, artist’s conception of a colony on Mars. Image: HP Mars Home Planet

Elon Musk explains that life on Mars will begin with glass domes that will be terraformed “to support life, like Earth”. Terraforming is a process of altering a planet’s atmosphere, temperature, ecology, and topography to support an Earth-like ecosystem. It should be remembered that, at least for now, this concept is only hypothetical.

The businessman acknowledges that the process “will be too slow to be relevant in our lives”. He adds: “However, we can establish a human base there in our lifetime. At least one future space civilization, discovering our ruins, will be amazed at how far humans have come.

And when he comments that this process will be slow, the businessman is right. In a recent analysis, experts concluded that it might take 3,500 nuclear warheads exploding daily to raise Mars’ atmospheric pressure to breathable levels.

However, even if it is possible one day, there is a major obstacle to this process. The resulting radiation would render the surface completely uninhabitable. Even aware of this, Musk doesn’t seem to have the slightest intention of giving up on the idea of ​​forming a city on Mars.

Why build a city on Mars

Musk plans to build a life-size city on the surface of Mars, which will be inhabited by ordinary people, not just scientists and researchers.

According to the website reverse, interested in moving to Mars could cover their flight costs with a loan. Once there, people could repay the loan by working anything from iron foundries to pizzerias.

Elon Musk intends to colonize Mars what.webp
The Mars city project developed by SpaceX. Image: Disclosure/SpaceX

Also according to the publication, the city would be free to govern itself on its own terms. This appears to contradict the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states that the country of origin of the launch is responsible for subsequent space activities.

According to Paul Wooster, SpaceX’s chief development engineer on Mars, the company could build not one, but several cities. “The idea would be to expand, to start not just as an outpost, but to become a larger base, not just like there is in Antarctica, but really a village, a town, becoming a metropolis and then several cities on Mars. , ”he said at the 21st annual convention of the International Mars Society in August.

Musk’s stated – and audacious – goal is to expand the existence of humanity in the universe. He always cites several reasons for this.

One point is that a new mass extinction event on Earth could spell the end of humanity – which could survive if it were able to set foot on a new planet, like Mars. “Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, but life is not yet multiplanetary and how long it will take to become so is extremely uncertain,” Musk wrote on Twitter in November 2021.

According to him, this catastrophic scenario can be caused by both climate change and an asteroid attack.

In February of this year, Musk also said that one of the reasons humanity has become multiplanetary is that we are “the keepers of life, and the creatures we love don’t know how to build spaceships, but we know it and we can bring them with us. ”

Read more:

Musk is not the first to ask us to colonize another planet. In 2017, physicist Stephen Hawking said humans would need to develop within 100 years to survive.

For British astrophysicist and professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, Martin Rees, the idea is a “dangerous illusion” and “dealing with climate change on Earth is nothing compared to making Mars habitable”.

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