A full presentation of how Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars is expected in September, but in the meantime the serial entrepreneur shared some new details.
The plan remains to launch the company's first unmanned spacecraft to Mars in 2018, these unmanned flights would continue about every two years, timed for when Earth and Mars are closest in orbit.
This will be the first private attempt to reach Mars, but missions to the red planet are nothing new of course. The real objective is the ambitious goal to put the first humans on Mars in 2025. In an interview with Washington Post, Musk described this mission as "hard, risky, dangerous, and difficult." It's going to be a lot like the colonization of the New World, and Musk acknowledges that just like a couple of hundred years ago, the colonization of Mars will probably not be without casualties.
Not a lot of details were revealed but Musk explained the early missions will not have a lot of people on it. It is really about establishing an architecture, to work towards the creation of a self-sustaining habitat on Mars and to setup a regular cargo route to Mars:
“Essentially what we’re saying is we’re establishing a cargo route to Mars,” he said. “It’s a regular cargo route. You can count on it. It’s going to happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station. And if scientists around the world know that they can count on that, and it’s going to be inexpensive, relatively speaking compared to anything in the past, then they will plan accordingly and come up with a lot of great experiments.”
“But I do want to emphasize this is not about sending a few people to Mars,” he continued. “It’s about having an architecture that would enable the creation of a self-sustaining city on Mars with the objective of being a multi-planet species and a true space-faring civilization and one day being out there among the stars.”
With 2025 just nine years into the future, a lot needs to go right and critics doubt SpaceX can pull it off in such a short timeframe. To fly to Mars, SpaceX will need its Falcon Heavy rocket operational and the first test flight of this super heavy lift space launch vehicle isn't expected until December 2016 at the earliest.
Furthermore, to reach the Martian surface, the company relies on landing the Dragon capsule using its own thrust. SpaceX is getting good at landing its Falcon 9 rockets but a propulsive landing of the Dragon capsule has not been performed yet. And we also know very little how the company plans to handle life support during these long missions.