SpaceX is working on establishing a transportation system that can help sustain a colony on Mars, and company CEO Elon Musk has expressed several times that he and his team have no strong desire to initiate any sort of robust lunar mission program. However, he’s more than supportive of any other party’s efforts to send humans back to the moon — and thinks it would be a boon to the space industry as a whole.k
“If we want to have the public real fired up, I think we got to have a base on the moon,” company Musk said Wednesday at the 2017 ISS R&D Conference in Washington, D.C. “That would be pretty cool.”
Although SpaceX does plan to send a crew of two on a trip around the moon late next year, there are no plans to land on the moon itself. Musk has previously said the moon serves little purpose to SpaceX’s goals, since the company is working to develop a direct transportation architecture to the red planet.
However, he believes the expansion of humanity to other worlds should be encouraged in all facets, and that includes the moon. In fact, establishing a moon base could be viewed in some respects as a logical intermediary step before humans begin to build a colony on Mars.
“Having some permanent presence on another heavenly body, which would be the moon base, and then getting people to Mars and beyond — I think that’s the continuance of the dream of Apollo that people are looking for,” Musk said.
In Musk’s view, NASA needs to put people back in the picture if it wants to recapture the public’s imagination, and he said as much this past weekend at the National Governors Association meeting in Rhode Island. That means a moon base with people, not just conducting scientific missions. While Musk’s a scientist, he’s always a savvy businessman and recognizes the importance of captivating public image.
“To get the public excited, you’ve really got to get people in the picture,” he said Saturday. “It’s just a hundred times different if there are people in the picture.”
But if you talk to scientists about that, [they’ll say] “where is the science in that?” It’s like, “you’re not getting it.” That’s not why people are giving you money. I mean it’s a little bit of the reason, the serious scientists are like, “people just make things more expensive; why do we have people.” OK, why do we have people at all, anywhere? Sometimes the scientists are the ones who just don’t understand. Smart people, but you know. You got to have something that’s going to fire people up and get them really excited and I think if we had a serious goal of having a base on the moon and sending people to Mars, and said, “OK, we’re going to be outcome-oriented, how are we going to this?”
So which country will build that lunar base if it’s not SpaceX?
The most likely candidates are other nations. The European Space Agency has previously declared a desire to have a moon base running by 2040, hopefully earlier. China might join that endeavor, too. And several other private companies like Blue Origin have expressed a keen interest in setting up operations relevant to servicing a lunar colony.
And let’s not forget the repeated references President Donald Trump and his administration have dropped when it comes to reigniting an American presence on the moon. It won’t be much of a surprise if Trump directs NASA to redirect efforts towards sending astronauts back to the moon.
While Musk and SpaceX are focused on the red planet, there’s no question the company would catch some residual enthusiasm sparked by the establishment of a permanent colony on the moon.
Watch the full interview with Musk on Wednesday below.