SpaceX chief Elon Musk unveiled ambitious plans to establish a Mars colony by sending 100 humans at a time on massive spacecraft, possibly costing as low as $100,000 per person.
Taking the stage under a large globe of Mars at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk showed his vision for a giant rocket that would propel people to the Red Planet “in our lifetime.”
“We need to go from these early exploration missions to actually building a city,” he said to an overflow crowd at an expo center in the western Mexican city of Guadalajara.
Musk showed a futuristic video depicting his concept of an interplanetary transport system based on reusable rockets, a propellant farm on Mars and 1,000 spaceships on orbit, carrying about 100 people each.
The spacecraft would have a restaurant, cabins, zero-gravity games and movies.
“It has to be fun or exciting. It can’t feel cramped or boring,” he said.
Musk later told reporters he was “optimistic” that the first human mission could leave Earth in 2024 and arrive on the Red Planet the following year.
Before that, SpaceX plans to send an unmanned Dragon cargo capsule to Mars as early as 2018.
The South Africa-born Canadian-American entrepreneur said the plan would require a “huge public-private partnership,” but he did not announce any alliance with a government agency.
The first flight would be expensive but the aim is “making this affordable to almost anyone who wants to go,” by dropping the price of a ticket over time from $200,000 to $100,000, Musk said.
“You can’t create a self-sustaining civilization on Mars if the ticket price is $10 billion per person,” he said.
It could also be deadly.
“I think the first trips to Mars are going to be really, very dangerous. The risk of fatality will be high. There is just no way around it,” he said. “It would basically be, ‘Are you prepared to die?’ Then if that’s ok, then you are a candidate for going.”
While SpaceX was hit by a setback on September 1 when its Falcon 9 rocket, after several successful missions and vertical landings, exploded on the launch pad during a test in Florida, Musk said “this is just a small thing on a long road.”
SpaceX is not alone in aspiring to travel to Mars.
The US space agency NASA, which is studying the effects of long-term space flight on the human body, has announced its own plans to send people to Mars by the 2030s.
Blue Origin, a company founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, also envisions a Mars mission, but decades from now.