Elon Musk wants to begin work on our first Martian city in 2022

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has offered up a vision of humanity’s future away from Earth, with reusable rockets helping us to colonise other planets in as little as six years. 

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Musk sketched out an ambitious timescale for sending humans to Mars. “What I really want to try to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible – like it’s something we can achieve in our lifetimes,” Musk said, outlining his intention to send a manned mission to Mars by as soon as 2022.

At the core of Musk’s vision is the Interplanetary Transport System, which will need to have full rocket reusability, and be able to refuel while in orbit, using propellant synthesised on Mars.

(Above: Video of Musk’s keynote, courtesy of Bloomberg)

The first of these ships would carry around 100 people, Musk claimed. He said the current cost of sending a person to Mars is around $10 billion, but that this would fall by “orders of magnitude” thanks to reusable rockets. Tickets on the Interplanetary Transport System would start at around $200,000 (around £154,000), but drop over time to around $100,000 (around £76,833). Eventually, multiple ships will be able to ferry groups of people over to Mars simultaneously, until there’s a city with a population of one million people.

All of this could start within the decade “if things go super-well,” Musk added, noting that the challenge will be funding the endeavour. The SpaceX founder wasn’t exactly forthcoming with information about how his grand vision was going to be funded – both ferrying cargo for the International Space Station and launching satellites were mentioned. One slide also simply mentioned “Kickstarter”.

“I really have no other purpose than to make life interplanetary,” Musk said, emphasising his commitment to accruing assets for the project. 

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The first ship to travel to Mars under the programme will be called Heart of Gold, in reference to the spaceship in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Like that book’s protagonist, Arthur Dent, humanity may be forced into space thanks to the destruction of our home. Musk said there are “two fundamental paths” facing humanity. “One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event,” he said. “The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilisation, and a multi-planetary species.”

NASA is developing its own plans to send astronauts to Mars, albeit with a slightly longer timescale, with the first voyage intended to launch in the 2030s. In response to Musk’s presentation, NASA said it applauds all those who want to advance humanity’s progression to Mars.

“We are very pleased that the global community is working to meet the challenges of a sustainable human presence on Mars,” NASA said in a statement. “This journey will require the best and the brightest minds from government and industry, and the fact that Mars is a major topic of discussion is very encouraging.”  

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