Will Elon Musk Make Colonizing Mars Possible?

Fagjun | Published 2017-06-18 08:21

The first look at Mars
[Image by Robert Viglasky, National Geographic Channel]

Colonizing Mars is something that has intrigued a lot of people, and for good reason. The red planet is famously uninhabitable, at least for denizens of Earth. Then again, it's not like humans to take no for an answer.

Though our home planet is perfect for us—after all, we did spring from its primordial soup—we're not really taking good care of it. Not to mention that we have a tendency to be destructive towards each other. Nuclear war is always a possibility, as is a disastrous and fatal asteroid collision.

Last year, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that he planned to send humans to Mars the way you backup your data to make sure it doesn't all get lost. His aims for sending humans to Mars isn't for the sake of just colonizing the planet. It's more for the sake of making sure humanity survives whatever it is we get ourselves into.

A Multi-Planet Species

Early stages of the colony
[Image by NASA Ames Research Center]

The Mars colony won't just be some outpost. Musk intends to establish a self-sustaining city on Mars. Eventually, it won't just be a city on another planet, but a colony of the entire planet itself. The ultimate goal is to eventually grow the founding population to one million. That way, Musk says, “we could become a truly multi-planet species”.

Ambition is the stuff of legends, but is all this possible?

Maybe. If there's one thing we can say about Musk's vision, it's that it's detailed. He published a paper that provides his plans for colonizing Mars. The first order of business for Musk is building a giant spacecraft capable of carrying the 100 colonizers to the planet. In 40 to 100 years, there should be about a million humans on Mars.

This seems amazing, and maybe just a little far-fetched, but let's work with Musk here. Say that it does become possible to build a giant spaceship that will carry 100 individuals to Mars. The cost estimate for now—the optimistic one at that—is $10 billion per person. This may of course keep people from signing up and having the adventure of their lifetimes. However, Musk thinks that if he is able to drop the price of the project, more people will want to go.

Colonizing Mars vs Living Sustainably on Earth

A colony of a million

The goal is for humanity to become a multi-planet species. It's not just for the sake of colonizing something other than Earth. Musk passed the moon over since it's not really a planet, and it doesn't fit his vision for humanity. He also passed over another close planet, Venus, since it's a lot more hostile to living things.

The project does seem ambitious—maybe just a tad too much. Musk, however, recognizes and addresses pertinent issues about the project in his paper. For example, he discusses how he would need to reduce the cost of traveling to Mars by five million percent.

Of course, there's also the fact that even just putting a small team of astronauts on Mars hasn't been done yet. A number of scientists are also not impressed by Musk's starry-eyed dreams of colonizing Mars. Some say that it's better to turn our attentions to living sustainably on Earth than planning around its eventual destruction.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!