Elon Musk Reveals How He's Going to Take Us to Mars
It's no secret that Elon Musk wants to take humans to Mars by 2025, but now, for the first time, he will explain how he plans to do it.
In a keynote speech, Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, Musk "will discuss the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars. His technical presentation will focus on potential architectures for sustaining humans on Mars that industry, government and the scientific community can collaborate on in the years ahead," according to SpaceX.
In a move to generate even more buzz around the highly anticipated speech, Musk shared photos of his Interplanetary Transport System—a powerful rocket engine dubbed Raptor—conducting its first test-firing in addition to some other details:
SpaceX propulsion just achieved first firing of the Raptor interplanetary transport engine https://t.co/vRleyJvBkx— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk)1474867087.0
Mach diamonds https://t.co/TCX7ZGFnN0— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk)1474867946.0
Production Raptor goal is specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN (~310 metric tons) at 300 bar— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk)1474868328.0
When compared to the Merlin engines used to power SpaceX's signature Falcon 9 rocket—the one it used to deliver supplies to the International Space Station—Musk said the Raptor's "chamber pressure is almost 3X Merlin, so engine is about the same size for a given area ratio." That means the Raptor is roughly three times more powerful than the Falcon 9's Merlin engine.
Musk's latest reveal shows just how far SpaceX has come since he founded the privately funded aerospace company in 2002. In 14 years, SpaceX went from successfully launching the Falcon 1 rocket into orbit in 2008 to being contracted to launch commercial satellites, as well as resupply the International Space Station.
In previous interviews about his plans for missions to Mars, Musk said the first mission is slated for 2018 when SpaceX plans to launch its so-called "Red Dragon" spacecraft, without a crew and on top of a Falcon Heavy rocket. Then every 26 months—when Earth and Mars's orbits are closest together—SpaceX will launch two more rockets to practice landing large objects on Mars, with full crews expected to make the trip in 2024.
While Musk says his main goal in these trips is establishing a colony for future generations, getting there safely will have its challenges.
Radiation exposure on the way to Mars puts astronauts "at huge risk of cancer [and is] a major open problem that must be solved for the mission to be feasible," Hannah Kerner, executive director of the Space Frontier Foundation, explained to ABCNews.
There are also other issues including the psycho-social effects of space travel as well as the effect of decreased gravity on the human body, Kerner said. And, as with all space travel, she warned, "there will surely be more vehicle failures and potential loss of life on the path to Mars."
So why do it?
At the event in Hong Kong in January, Musk described the desire to go to Mars this way:
"It's really a fundamental decision we need to make as a civilization. What kind of future do we want? Do we want a future where we're forever confined to one planet until some eventual extinction event, however far in the future, that might occur? Or do we want to become a multi-planet species and then ultimately be out there among the stars?"
And while Musk's main purpose to take us beyond our blue planet may be to save us from possible extinction, he also admitted, "What gets me more excited is that this would be an incredible adventure. It would be like the greatest adventure ever."
Watch Musk's speech live streamed today at 2:30 p.m. ET: