Want to “get your ass to Mars,” as Buzz Aldrin is keen on saying? Turns out Elon Musk may have a means to help you foot the bill.
The SpaceX CEO, who has big dreams about building a million-strong city on Mars by 2050, revealed more details last week about how regular citizens could take part in humanity’s multi-planetary future. While the riches could afford to pay for the trip upfront, Musk is proposing a loan system where visitors would work in the Mars city to pay back the cost of the flight.
“Needs to be such that anyone can go if they want, with loans available for those who don’t have money,” Musk wrote on Twitter January 17.
SpaceX Mars city: how much would it cost?
In February 2019, Musk suggested that a return ticket would cost around $500,000, possibly even dropping to $100,000 over time. At a 2016 conference, Musk said his goal was to reach around $200,000 to meet the median cost of a house in the United States. Musk has suggested that the total cost of developing the city could come to somewhere between $100 billion and $10 trillion.
Essentially, Musk is suggesting that a flight to Mars would financially look similar to a house on Earth. You can apply for a loan (mortgage, in the case of a physical house) and work a job to cover the costs. Its price means you could sell your existing assets and use them to also cover the costs.
Of course it’s not exactly the same as a house, and that’s where it starts to get tricky. Musk is selling a service, the return flight to and from Mars. Unlike a house, which you can sell to help buy a new one, selling your house to fund your Mars trip could leave you one day returning to Earth in a considerably worse financial position. Musk did not explain what would happen if you fail to make loan repayments.
SpaceX Mars city: how many would get to go?
The prices depend on how many people take up Musk’s offer, as he’s described it as dependent on supply and demand. Musk said last week that the Starship, the stainless steel ship that will make the flight, is aiming for three flights per ship per day with each ship capable of carrying around 100 tons or 100 people. That means 10 ships at 1,000 flights per year could send one megaton to orbit.
“Megatons per year to orbit are needed for life to become multiplanetary,” Musk wrote on Twitter last week.
The slight limiter on that plan is the two planets’ position over time. Earth and Mars are closest around every 26 months. Musk suggests that over a 30-day period every 26 months, 1,000 ships could depart for Mars in scenes reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica. That would take around 100,000 people to Mars.
Would those figures hold up? Guenter Lang, an economics professor at Kühne Logistics University, suggested to Inverse in May 2019 that a few hundred thousand could take the plunge. But like most luxury consumables, a ticket to Mars could lose value in the eyes of the mega-rich as more take the plunge and it grows less exclusive.
Not that those first visitors will experience any luxury for that money. At the SXSW 2018 conference, Musk compared the prospect to “like Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers: difficult, dangerous, good chance you will die.”
SpaceX Mars city: how would you pay the loan back?
At that price, you’d need some way to pay the loans back. Fortunately, Musk declared in 2016 that Mars would have “labor shortage for a long time so jobs wouldn’t be in short supply.”
There’s plenty to get stuck into. Why not try your hand at developing the initial life support systems? Or establishing secondary systems like recycling? During the same event, Musk declared that Mars would need everything from pizzerias to iron foundries.
There’s also the prospect of advancing humanity’s understanding of the universe. Paul Wooster, principal Mars development engineer for SpaceX, stated in September 2018 that Mars could act as a support base to conduct scientific experiments, a proposal that sounds similar to the International Space Station.
“These types of things are real opportunities for pretty much anyone in the broader Mars-related community to engage in,” Wooster said. “SpaceX is focused on getting the transportation architecture set up as quickly as possible, but it’s really to enable all these other types of activities.”
The idea does have an air of science fiction. James Vincent, reporter for The Verge, shared Musk’s post on Twitter with an ad tagline spotted in dystopian thriller Blade Runner — “a new life awaits you in the off-world colonies!”
The 1982 film was set in November 2019 in Los Angeles. In reality, that was the month when Musk unveiled the Blade Runner-inspired Tesla Cybertruck. Musk, it seems, has more to offer to recreate the movie’s rain-soaked vision.
Whether the vision is enough to entice people to sell their homes and live in tough conditions remains to be seen.