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Mars Colonization: Elon Musk’s Plans And SpaceX Developments So Far

Mars Colonization: Elon Musk’s Plans And SpaceX Developments So Far

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First Posted: Sep 22, 2016 06:04 AM EDT
Concept for NASA Design Reference Mission Architecture
Concept for NASA Design Reference Mission Architecture. Image used for representation only. NASA / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

In less than a week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is reportedly going to explain his colonization plans for Mars, a goal close to his heart and one that he has championed for many years. According to speculations, Musk will talk about the technologies and vehicles needed to transport people to the Martian surface, and create a settlement there.

The Tesla cofounder is going to talk about his plans on September 27. Incidentally, the announcement coincides with an awkward time for SpaceX, after the company faced a major debacle when one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded in the Cape Canaveral launch pad. However, going by Musk's talk schedule, it doesn't seem like the plan to discuss his Mars vision next week has changed.

"I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen," Elon Musk had stated previously in 2014. However, the CEO of SpaceX has never absolutely cleared what his plans for Mars entail. Based on periodic information released by Musk and SpaceX, regarding various technologies, here is what can be gathered about the Mars colonization plan as of now, until the real picture is presented by the man himself.

The plan to reach the red planet, as forwarded by Musk, is based on two main elements that comprise of a rocket booster and a giant spaceship that will transport people and cargo. After being launched by the booster, the spaceship will continue on its long journey to Mars. The two vehicles have been referred to as the Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT); however last week the name was changed to Interplanetary Transport System, because Musk believes the vehicles can also make a journey beyond Mars. Over the past few years, Musk has indicated that rocket used to propel the spaceship will be reusable, and he hopes to launch the first manned spaceship in 2024. However, a test to launch a person into space has still not been conducted by SpaceX.

A key part of the rocket and spaceship will be the Raptor, a huge engine that the company has been working on since 2009. According to Musk, the Raptor will be capable of 500,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff, which implies it will be as strong as the main engines of the space shuttle. The component will reportedly be fueled with liquid methane, unlike the kerosene dependent Merlin engines used for powering the Falcon 9 rockets. Furthermore, a whole group of such raptors will power the Interplanetary Transport System, though their precise numbers are still unclear at the moment. Incidentally, the first full-scale Raptor was transported to the SpaceX testing facility in Texas earlier this year.

Musk had also revealed SpaceX's plan to launch a series of Red Dragon missions, starting in 2018 whose sole purpose will be to see if the vehicle can drop off supplies to the Martian surface to set up the framework of hardware and equipment in preparation for the people journeying from Earth. In addition, Musk has also revealed that his spaceship will be brought back to Earth and won't be on a one way journey like the Mars One project. "These spaceships are expensive, okay, they're hard to build. You can't just leave them there. So whether or not people want to come back or not is kind of - like they can jump on if they want, but we need the spaceship back," Elon Musk has stated.

At the moment, it is not clear how the spaceship is going to make a return journey or where exactly will the people, who travel to Mars, live. The details will only be revealed once Musk talks about his plans next week. 

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