SpaceX founder Elon Musk used an offhand tweet yesterday to reveal — and possibly humblebrag — that his company’s Mars Colonial Transporter, the ship intended to start taking people to Mars as soon as 2024, has a range that extends “well beyond Mars.” As such, he sent out a request for a new name for the MCT, since the Mars bit is already obsolete — well, at least as obsolete as a name can be before the ship actually, you know, goes to Mars.
Musk didn’t give any further details on just how far beyond Mars the MCT can go, nor did his tweet imply SpaceX is now looking beyond Mars in its human exploration plans. Indeed, there isn’t necessarily an obvious target for human exploration beyond Mars, especially when unmanned probes remain a much cheaper, more versatile option than something with working life support.
Given the inhospitable temperatures of Mercury and Venus, the best bets for further exploration likely lay further out than Mars, with the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn being the most intriguing candidates. But again, that’s just speculation piled atop speculation, and it might be a good idea for an MCT to actually leave this planet — the first test mission is slated for 2018, with the first attempt to take equipment to Mars scheduled for 2022 — before we get too excited.
In the meantime, the suggestions rolled in for potential new names. The pop culture references were thick, with Musk highlighting Indestructible II from the game Orion Trail — which we can only hope wasn’t also a veiled shot at the recent launchpad explosion of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets — and Heart of Gold, named for Zaphod Beeblebrox’s stolen ship from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Assuming we’re all waiting for the first true starship to bust out Enterprise — because really, all human space exploration is just working toward the point we have a real-life starship worthy of that name — then Heart of Gold gets our vote, and it sounds like Musk is a fan too.