During a Q&A held at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas on Sunday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk discussed the future of his space faring business, and in particular, his plans for a fleet of interplanetary ships with a course set for Mars. Of course, the man hailed by many as a visionary, wanted to be sure to temper the enthusiasm of those already packing their bags.
“It’s difficult, dangerous, [there’s a] good chance you will die,” he explained about those who would first set foot on the Red Planet. “Excitement for those who survive, that kind of thing.”
“I think there aren’t that many people that want to go in the beginning because all those things I said are true. But there will be some who will, for whom the excitement of frontier and exploration exceeds the danger,” he added.
The rocket that will ferry SpaceX crews or passengers to Mars, the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) is actually already under construction, and promises to usurp the Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket in the SpaceX arsenal. In fact, it will likely be the most powerful rocket in use anywhere on the planet (a title currently held by the Falcon Heavy) depending on whether or not NASA has been able to field the SLS by that time, as well as how the final stats for the new platforms match up.
“We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now,” Musk said. “And we’ll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year.”
Musk’s plans to send a crewed mission to Mars, however, could be seen as a far bigger challenge that any previously faced by SpaceX. While the company has made great leaps in reducing the costs associated with orbital space travel, Musk and Co. have still been primarily operating in well tread territory, improving processes that have been developed through more than a half century of rocket launches that have, for the most part, done the same things Musk’s Falcon suite of rockets now do themselves. Sending human beings to Mars, on the other hand, represents an entirely new set of challenges all together.
Not one to shy away from the odds, Musk seems to be well aware of not only the challenges presented by the concept of manned interplanetary space travel, but also the perceptions of those challenges around the world. According to him, SpaceX could be the company to shift the planet’s mindset by showing that manned interplanetary operations are possible.
“They currently don’t think it’s possible so that if we show them that it is, then I think that they will up their game and they will build interplanetary transport vehicles, as well,” Musk said on Sunday. He went on to say that it would be that influx of “entrepreneurial opportunities” created by new interest in the colonization of Mars that will lead to a permanent settlement on the windswept planet, starting with necessities like a power plant, glass domes for farming, and housing, but leading to the creature comforts of earth.
“I think Mars should really have great bars,” he added. “A Mars bar.”
Musk hopes the first BFR will set down on Martian soil in 2022, though it would likely be an unmanned cargo supply trip, followed soon thereafter by a convoy of similar vessels carrying hundreds of human explorers… and one day, settlers.
“People have told me that my timelines historically have been ‘optimistic,'” he said. “I’m trying to ‘recalibrate’ to some degree here.”
Image courtesy of SpaceX