Elon Musk Offers New Details on SpaceX Mars Colony

Wikimedia Commons / SpaceX

On Sunday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Reddit to answer further questions about the forecasted mission to Mars. The first manned mission to Mars will have just “about a dozen people.” Musk has previously said that the likelihood of death on the first mission will be “very high,” which means that these twelve souls, if they make it to the Red Planet, will become legitimate heroes.

Musk’s Ask Me Anything took place within the SpaceX subreddit, so many of the responses were fairly technical. He spent about an hour answering questions; there were 5,371 comments, 15 of which came from Musk himself. With a few of his responses, however, we can glean details about the early missions, the first settlers’ roles, and the habitations.

A rendering of the Interplanetary Transport System as it approaches Mars.

To start, Musk said that the first missions “will be heavily weighted towards cargo.” It’s part of his four-step program to colonize: The first two steps are unmanned, logistical missions to perfect landing, test water extraction, and drop off equipment. But the first manned mission, he said, would have “about a dozen people.” (In 2012, Musk said that the first manned mission would have fewer than 10 people; it would seem that he’s changed his mind.) They will travel “with equipment to build rudimentary base, and complete the propellant plant.” These audacious experts will be the first-ever interplanetary humans, and they’ll make the voyage knowing that odds of death are high. Their priority will be to “build out and troubleshoot the propellant plant and Mars Base Alpha power system.”

And these dozen people will need to be ready to die. “I think the first trips to Mars are going to be really, very dangerous,” he said at the International Astronautical Conference (IAC) in September. “The risk of fatality will be high. There is just no way around it. It would basically be, ‘Are you prepared to die?’ Then, if that’s OK, then you’re a candidate for going.” It’ll be like The Right Stuff, except even more daring. And, no matter what happens, it’s safe to assume that this baker’s dozen will be deified back on Earth.

Later missions, after the proto-colony is established, will be crewed with about a hundred legitimate settlers. Moving forward, SpaceX will seek to “double the number of flights with each Earth-Mars orbital rendezvous, which is every 26 months, until the city can grow by itself,” Musk wrote. At the IAC, when he outlined the journey’s specifics, Musk said that passengers onboard would be treated to luxurious living, such that make the approximately 80-day trip more pleasant.

“It has to be fun or exciting. It can’t be cramped or boring,” he said. The colonists’ living space, then, will include zero-gravity games, a restaurant, and movies. “Will aim to release details of the habitation section when we have actual live mockups. Maybe in a year or two,” he wrote.

SpaceX has a lot of ground to cover before it begins populating the red soil: It hopes to begin colonization within a decade, but, on Reddit, Musk admitted that SpaceX has yet to master most phases of the project — excluding, perhaps, the “starting engines.” Let’s hope that fewer than 10 years is enough time for SpaceX engineers to master the rest of the process. It’s just rocket science, after all.

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