Many words have been used to describe entrepreneur Elon Musk, not all of them fond or sympathetic. The tech guru has had a difficult twelve months, having been forced to step down as chairman of his company Tesla and battle mental health struggles in a very bright, very high profile spotlight. Still, the innovative ideas and big promises keep coming. According to Musk, SpaceX – the entrepreneur’s revolutionary space technology company – will be capable of taking paying customers to Mars in six years. He’s also said there’s a 70% chance he’ll take the trip himself and maybe even relocate to the Red Planet. Musk’s latest outlandish claim is that the upcoming Tesla Roadster will feature ten rocket thrusters.
The thing is, there’s an established history of Musk saying crazy things and people calling him everything from silly to deceitful or even insane. And then usually, he goes and proves the doubters wrong. Both Tesla and SpaceX are responsible for some of the most exciting, most jaw dropping technological feats of the last ten years. So, when Elon Musk says a return ticket to Mars will, one day, cost as little as $100,000, perhaps it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
The Long, Wild Ride to the Red Planet
Musk believes, once humans have the technology for commercial travel to Mars, it won’t be long before the cost of a ticket becomes affordable for ‘most people in advanced economies.’ And he hopes, nay expects, this degree of affordability to convince some people to sell their homes and permanently relocate to a new planet. On Twitter – he clearly hasn’t learned much from past social media debacles – the entrepreneur said he’s confident the cost of moving to Mars will drop to, at least, $500,000 and possibly even half of this figure. He points out that cost projections would be heavily influenced by volume; the more people willing to take the trip, the cheaper it will get.
While it’s tempting to dismiss such lofty claims, they’re made by a man who is working to complete a Mars spaceship as we speak. SpaceX is attempting to build a reusable space vehicle called the StarShip. And ‘reusable’ is the important word here. If Musk can be the first to build a returnable spacecraft, it could solve many of the problems holding humanity back from commercial travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Why Elon Musk Is Right to Shoot for the Stars
Yes, Musk’s projections are ambitious at best, but they’re grounded in the increasingly inevitability of commercial space travel. Most of the world’s governments agree we’ll reach Mars for the first time within the next two decades. Once we’ve achieved this feat, it’s likely the rigors and costs of privately funded travel to space or the moon will seem trivial in comparison. Heck, Richard Branson has already proved his Virgin Galactic spacecraft is ready to take tourists into space this year.
The potential of Elon Musk’s StarShip, if it proves successful, is simply huge. The reusable craft is designed to carry around one hundred passengers not just to the edges of space, but further than any human being has gone before. It relies on a series of Raptor engines powered by methane and liquid oxygen. The important detail here is that both types of fuel could, theoretically, be reproduced on Mars. And this is what makes StarShip so special. For decades, scientists and engineers have considered a return trip impossible. The fuel needed to travel to Mars and back is just too heavy. If, as Musk suggests, new fuel could be created on the Red Planet, it would make commercial travel to the planet (and possible relocation) a feasible prospect for the first time.
The Path to Colonization of a New World
It’s clear that Musk is approaching this mammoth space challenge with the mind of a businessman. He’s not content with achieving the once impossible, he wants to do it as efficiently and economically as possible. On the one hand, he’s an entrepreneur: building dreams for less is what he does. It’s a big part of the reason he’s been so successful, of course. On the other hand, Elon Musk is anticipating the limits of human engineering before they happen and finding ways to pre-empt them. He’s expressed a wish to construct future versions of the StarShip for less than $62 million – a mere drop in the ocean for technology of this caliber. And he’s doing it because he can’t help but see ten steps ahead. Elon Musk knows he’ll get to Mars. He’s moved on to the next ‘impossible’ – building new societies there. I think that’s what you call a visionary.