Humanity’s Race to Privatize the Cosmos

At an International Aeronautical Congress (IAC) meeting  in Mexico last September, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk presented his plans to build spaceships that could eventually colonize Mars.

The enthusiastic crowds were ecstatic to get a glimpse of Musk’s vision of interplanetary travel, made possible with funding by SpaceX, which would involve a potential private-public partnership as well.

With a video presentation outlining the possible trip to Mars, Musk outlined the science fiction-like journey. This mission to Mars would be made possible by building a massive rocket booster which would be taller, more powerful and would dwarf NASA’s own Saturn V rockets. The boosters are powered by a combination of 42 raptor engines, which run on Methane and are built by SpaceX.

The estimated cost of building and developing the spaceship comes near an amount of $10 billion, with the possibility of a launch as early as 2024 if  plans proceed without glitch. SpaceX plans to perform launching missions every 26 months, when Earth and Mars would be closest to each other. Eventually, the ticket to Mars for each person may be around $250,000, the price of an average American home.

The spaceship could likely carry 100 or more people with 450 tons of cargo to Mars. Once launched into space, the booster separates from the rocket and lands back on Earth. While the rocket is parked in orbit, the booster is relaunched with a propellant tank to refuel the spaceship.

This may require three to five propellant tanks to prepare the spaceship for its very long journey to Mars, which is the equivalent to an average of 225 million km away from Earth. After its arrival on Mars, the spaceship would lower itself using its engines in a process called Supersonic Retropropulsion. With the absence of a thick atmosphere, Mars would not support the landing of heavy payloads on its surface.

“Elon and his team at SpaceX have shown the world that nothing speaks louder than results,” said Will Pomerantz, vice president of special projects, Virgin Galactic. “Most important, for anyone backing Elon, the presentation encourages them to keep on developing and furthering technology such as the raptor engines.”

On one hand, Musk revolutionized the automobile industry with the launch of his electric car Tesla, contributing to a greener and cleaner Earth. On the other hand, he presented a fanciful option to colonize another planet in the event of a world- ending catastrophe. With SpaceX, Musk’s long term goals have always been about interplanetary travel, specifically to Mars.

“My ambition and vision [have] been to send people to colonize Mars and in the process to make humanity a multi-planetary species,” said Musk, about his goal for SpaceX. “With this Interplanetary Transport system in place, we are free to travel even farther into our solar system.”

Despite plans, critics are not convinced of Musk’s far-reaching idea and its Mars colonization ambitions.

“We have a science base in Antarctica all the time, hundreds of people there,” said Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, while drawing an analogy for living on Mars with living on  Antarctica. “But, you don’t go there to raise a family or build playgrounds. There is nothing to eat or drink on Mars, not to mention one cannot breathe on Mars.”

Keeping these facts in mind, Musk’s Mars spaceship plans are in the early developments of a long process of improvements and advancements in engineering technology. Perseverance, coupled with ingenuity and open-mindedness, would make a Mission to Mars  a distant but definite possibility.

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