Elon Musk has his heart set on Mars.
The billionaire entrepreneur seems to have his hands in every cutting edge tech field, and some of that tech is going to help land a human on Mars.
If Musk gets his way then that historic landing will happen within the next 12 years, he said during an episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio show.
Years ago, Musk was planning a simple philanthropic mission with the goal of increasing NASA’s budget.
“I was confused as to why we had not yet sent a person to Mars,” Musk said. “It seemed like this was obviously the goal after the moon and we’d not made progress on that.”
Musk began wondering why that was.
“I went on the NASA website and I couldn’t find a date for a manned Mars mission,” Musk said.
That’s when Musk’s idea shifted. One of the driving forces behind SpaceX is to eventually land a small unit on Mars with the hope of getting people excited about space travel and opening up the valve on NASA’s budget stream.
Interestingly, NASA does have a date in mind now: sometime in the 2030s. That’s a realistic time frame, but the organization has suffered budget cut after budget cut, and its future seems a little murky right now.
NASA isn’t alone though. The private company Mars One made headlines earlier this year when it announced its top 100 candidates for a one-way trip to establish a human colony on Mars. People have ripped holes in Mars One’s plans to land people there by 2027 on a $6 billion budget. The company has yet to announce any significant move forward now that it has its would-be colonizers.
And of course Musk is also dreaming of Mars.
In his interview with Tyson, Musk gave this bold statement:
“I think we’ve got a decent shot of sending a person to Mars in about 11 or 12 years.”
We have yet to see any detailed plans from SpaceX on how to pull that off. Musk announced in a Reddit AMA that SpaceX will unveil its Mars Colonial Transporter sometime this year though. He said the design will be completely different from any of the company’s existing spacecraft, but remained vague on the details.
Still, coming from the man who makes his living on cutting edge tech development, it’s probably worth considering that an 11 to 12 year time frame is possible.
So what’s stopping us from getting there? It’s certainly not a question of motive. Many scientists have laid out all the reasons we should be sending humans to Mars. The problem seems to be that budgets are tight and tech is lacking, with limited investment to develop new technologies.
“There’s plenty of will,” Musk said. “But people needed to believe that there’s a way, and a way that would not bankrupt the country or mean that they would have to sacrifice something of critical importance like healthcare.”
So Musk concluded that what we really need is a cheaper way to get to space.
That’s where SpaceX comes in. The company has been around for 12 years, and it’s getting incredibly close to creating a reusable rocket that will dramatically reduce the cost of launches. Right now a launch costs upwards of $60 million. Reusable rockets could bring that number down to around $200,000 to $300,000, according to Musk.
So can SpaceX actually pull off a Mars landing in 11 or 12 years?
NASA seems to have faith in SpaceX’s lofty goals since it awarded the company a contract to develop a space capsule designed to ferry supplies, and eventually astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The company has already successfully launched supplies to the ISS, and it’s planning to launch the first manned test flight of the capsule in the next two to three years.
NASA may also partner with SpaceX for an unmanned Mars exploration mission called Red Dragon that could bring samples from Mars back to Earth within seven years.
SpaceX still has it’s own manned Mars mission in mind though. The company has already unveiled plans for a new heavy-duty rocket designed to carry huge payloads like the ones we’d need to send humans to Mars. And we’re expecting detailed plans for the company’s new line of spacecraft later this year.
So maybe 12 years isn’t crazy at all.