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:
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.