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, wants to colonize the red planet and establish an autonomous city there, which can serve as a home for a million people, making humanity multiplanetary.
Colonizing Mars in the next three decades is probably at the top of Musk’s list of most ambitious plans. Among the plans of the founder of SpaceX, the CEO of Tesla, the vice president of OpenAI, the president of SolarCity and now the new owner of Twitter, are also implanting chips in people’s brains through 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 in 2024. He later recalculated his plans for 2026, after has set 2029 as his goal. If it comes to fruition, the first manned trip to Mars will take place 60 years after the first manned landing on the Moon in 1969.
Main challenge to reach Mars, according to Elon Musk
According to Musk, the main obstacle to overcome is finance. He says that his Starship is the most complex spacecraft ever built “by an order of magnitude”, and that his main criterion for optimization is cost per ton in Earth orbit and possibly even on Mars.
“There is 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 on Lex Friedman’s podcast in January of this year. “Now you can’t fly to Mars for $1 trillion, so we have to overcome that. »
At the time, he also pointed out that the strategy for Mars was different from NASA’s Apollo program, which brought humans to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. “On Mars, our goal is not to leave a footprints and flags and not come back for 50 years. We have to be a multiplanetary species,” said the billionaire, using the term he usually uses for the fact that humans will not only visit Mars, but also choose to live on it. there.
Starship’s orbital test flight fails
However, for all of this to be possible, the ship must first fly. And right now, it’s proving increasingly difficult to do.
The Starship consists of a large first-stage booster called the Super Heavy and a 50-meter-tall spacecraft also dubbed the Starship. Both are fully reusable and powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engines, with 33 for the thruster and six for the capsule.
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 on both vehicles in recent months at Starbase, the facility company south from Texas. .
This test flight will take off from Starbase, which will send 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 land in 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 an environmental review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it is not the only approval required for flight authorization.
SpaceX is still waiting for a launch license, a regulatory document that must be issued by the FAA – the same body responsible for issuing the Starbase environmental license, as mentioned above (and which took almost 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 the renewal of the radio spectrum license. That is, the dates must line up, otherwise the ship will not fly.
At least not from Starbase. But SpaceX is working on building another launch site for the massive vehicle. The company is renovating 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 think that this whole process involving the Starship is over. That the first manned trip to Mars was successfully completed. And that, from now on, people will live on the red planet. Alright, and how about that?
Elon Musk explained that life on Mars would start with glass domes that would be terraformed “to support life, like Earth”. Terraforming is a process of changing a planet’s atmosphere, temperature, ecology, and topography to support an Earth-like ecosystem. It should be noted that, at least for now, this concept is only hypothetical.
The entrepreneur acknowledges that the process “will be too slow to be meaningful in our lives”. He added: “However, we may establish a human base there in our lifetime. At least a future civilization in space, discovering our ruins, will be surprised 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 would take 3,500 nuclear warheads detonating every day to raise the pressure of Mars’ atmosphere to breathing levels.
However, even if it is possible one day, there is a big obstacle in this process. The resulting radiation would make the surface completely uninhabitable. Even knowing this, Musk seems to have little intention of giving up on the idea of building a city on Mars.
Why build a city on Mars?
Musk plans to build a life-size city on the surface of Mars, inhabited by ordinary people, not just scientists and researchers.
According to the website reverse, those interested in moving to Mars can cover their flight costs with a loan. Once there, people could pay off the debt by working in anything from steel foundries to pizzerias.
According to the publication, the city will be free to govern itself on its own terms. This appears to conflict with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states that the country of origin of the launch is responsible for subsequent activities in space.
According to Paul Wooster, the chief engineer of the development of SpaceX on Mars, the company can build not one, but several cities. “The idea is to expand, to start not just as an outpost, but to become a bigger base, not just like there is in Antarctica, but really a village, a town, becoming a metropolis and then some 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 humanity’s presence in the universe. He always cites some 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 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 highly uncertain,” Musk wrote on Twitter in November 2021.
According to him, this catastrophic scenario could be caused by both climate change and an asteroid strike.
In February of this year, Musk also said that one of the reasons why humanity has become multiplanetary is because we are “keepers of life, and the creatures we love don’t know how to build spaceships , but we know it and we can carry it with us.”
Musk isn’t the first to ask us to colonize another planet. In 2017, physicist Stephen Hawking said that humans need to evolve for 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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