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Elon Musk Proposes Spaceship That Can Send 100 People To Mars In 80 Days ( 497

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Mars vehicle -- the spaceship his company plans to build to transport the first colonists to Mars. It will have a diameter of 17 meters. The plan is to send about 100 people per trip, though Musk wants to ultimately take 200 or more per flight to make the cost cheaper per person. The trip can take as little as 80 days or as many as 150 depending on the year. The hope is that the transport time will be only 30 days "in the more distant future." The rocket booster will have a diameter of 12 meters and the stack height will be 122 meters. The spaceship should hold a cargo of up to 450 tons depending on how many refills can be done with the tanker. As rumored, the Mars vehicle will be reusable and the spaceship will refuel in orbit. The trip will work like this: First, the spaceship will launch out of Pad 39A, which is under development right now at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. At liftoff, the booster will have 127,800 kilonewtons of thrust, or 28,730,000 pounds of thrust. Then, the spaceship and booster separate. The spaceship heads to orbit, while the booster heads back to Earth, coming back within about 20 minutes. Back on Earth, the booster lands on a launch mount and a propellant tanker is loaded onto the booster. The entire unit -- now filled with fuel -- lifts off again. It joins with the spaceship, which is then refueled in orbit. The propellant tankers will go up anywhere from three to five times to fill the tanks of the spaceship. The spaceship finally departs for Mars. To make the trip more attractive for its crew members, Musk promises that it'll be "really fun" with zero-G games, movies, cabins, games, a restaurant. Once it reaches Mars, the vehicle will land on the surface, using its rocket engines to lower itself gently down to the ground. The spaceship's passengers will use the vehicle, as well as cargo and hardware that's already been shipped over to Mars, to set up a long-term colony. At the rate of 20 to 50 total Mars trips, it will take anywhere from 40 to 100 years to achieve a fully self-sustaining civilization with one million people on Mars, says Musk.
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Elon Musk Proposes Spaceship That Can Send 100 People To Mars In 80 Days

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  • Missing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @11:39PM (#52973971)

    He's missing the part where you get a bunch of people to send you money for the fake chance to die on Mars. Where is his reality show that will fund everything?

  • No return trips? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @11:46PM (#52974019)

    No word in the article about return trips to Earth. For a small pioneer colony that makes total sense to me, but when you talk about setting up a 1-million strong kind of colony, or even just the minimum of 4,000 (40 flights with 100 folk on board) you'll have to consider return trips as well. Cannibalizing your own space ships doesn't sound like too good an idea for that (though staying in orbit at both Earth and Mars, does).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Black Parrot ( 19622 )

      No need for return trips when all the passengers are killed by radiation on the flight out.

    • Re:No return trips? (Score:5, Informative)

      by frnic ( 98517 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @11:56PM (#52974079)

      During the question and answer period after his announcement he said that if someone got there and changed their minds, they could return on the return trip of the spaceship. The intention is to reuse the ships so the will be coming back to be refitted and relaunched to be used again.

      He also stated that one of the qualifications to go is that you have to be able to answer YES to the question, are you prepared to die - he expects it to be VERY dangerous.

      I respect his ambition and his vision.

    • All trips are return.. optionally.

      Each ship that goes to mars will have to return to earth - after having being refueled on Mars. This is relatively easy thanks to the supercooled methane/oxygen engines, as CO2+H2O availability on Mars. Elon quipped that the return trip is free - since the ship has to come back anyway.

    • when you talk about setting up a 1-million strong kind of colony, [...] you'll have to consider return trips as well

      You missed subtext: we're sending all the lawyers and nobody wants them to return. ;)

  • Antarctica (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @11:53PM (#52974061) Homepage

    I think he's being a bit optimistic. Living conditions in Mars are closest to Antarctica on earth, and if you read about life in McMurdo Station it isn't pleasant. Additionally you can read about the large amount of supplies that are required every year to keep the base going.

    We will get to Mars eventually, maybe even sooner than some people think, but a permanent colony is more than 30 years away.

    • Re:Antarctica (Score:5, Insightful)

      by frnic ( 98517 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @11:58PM (#52974089)

      Progress advances non-linearly, and fastest when someone with a vision leads.

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @12:31AM (#52974239) Journal

      Additionally you can read about the large amount of supplies that are required every year to keep the base going.

      True but that is because nobody on an antarctic base spends their time trying to grow things (unless that is part of their science project). If you have everyone on the base dedicating all their time to growing food, finding resources, making repairs etc. you will probably need far fewer resources to support the base. This is impractical in Antarctica because it is cheaper to ship the food there than to support even more people living there who try to grow food themselves.

      However I do agree that this proposal seems rather optimistic but the task is so amazingly hard that I expect that any Mars colonization mission will always appear overly optimistic until one actually succeeds.

      • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @12:37AM (#52974263) Homepage

        Actually they do:

          Hydroponics in Antarctica is as unique as the continent itself. The extreme environmental conditions found here make the process of growing food a formidable challenge. Four months of solid daylight, four months of total darkness, and unpredictable winds and temperature changes present a unique growing situation. One cannot simply build a glasshouse, set up a system, and expect tasty produce to grow!

        The McMurdo
        The McMurdo "Bucket" Hydroponics
        However, at McMurdo Station on Ross Island (and to a much lesser degree at the South Pole Station), successful harvests are achieved on a daily basis. The 649 square foot greenhouse at McMurdo can generate a monthly average 250 lbs of produce during peak cycles. Varieties include lettuce greens, spinach, arugula, chard, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and herbs. The harvest is ample enough to provide a winter community of up to 230 people a salad once every 4 days, plus lots of fresh herbs, veggies, and fruit for the galley chefs to incorporate into their menus. During summer, however, community population can reach numbers of over 1000 people. During this time, the greenhouse simply acts as a supplement to the fresh food flown into the base from New Zealand. One of the greatest year-round benefits, however, is the fact that the greenhouse is the only source of lush, live plants, colorful flowers, and warm, humid air. Many community members frequent this environment for this reason alone!

    • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @01:19AM (#52974401)

      If you're going to Mars at all anyway messing around with just a few people means certain death for all. With enough people you have redundancy in skill and ability, a lot of pure manual labor on tap if required, and lots more of a drive to make the community continue. In think the timeframe is pretty realistic to be honest and the goal not very out of reach. Think of where we were technologically forty years ago, across many fields of science...

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        But the question still remains: If you can build a colony on Mars, why not build a colony on the Moon? It has all the same cache of living under a dome to protect you from vacuum and radiation, doesn't take nearly as long to get there, and is close enough to earth that it's actually feasible have an evacuation plan. Also, you don't have to worry about sand storms gunking up your solar panels, and you get more annual insolation, generally, due to the closer orbit.

        • by khallow ( 566160 )
          Sounds like Musk doesn't want to go the Moon.
        • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @04:14AM (#52974889)

          Except the Moon is only a bit closer in terms of energy, and still too far away to evacuate anything more than a modest outpost unless you have a nice, slow, orderly catastrophe that allows you months or years to evacuate. You also have to deal with razor-sharp moon dust that, without the benefit of weathering, will make short work of moving parts and formerly airtight seals.

          Mars also has far more accessible and abundant resources - a massive ice cap, potentially useful amounts of subsurface water, and all the CO2 you could want delivered to your doorstep. That and greenhouses can give you most of the raw materials needed to build and grow a colony, both in terms of biomass, and carbon and cellulose-based building materials - nanocellulose for example is translucent and airtight, with a strength comparable to aluminum, and can be produced from woody biomass with purely mechanical processing.

          As for solar, the insolation on the Moon is more intense, but you'd need pretty huge batteries to hold you through the nights - they are almost fifteen Earth-days long after all. While Mars days are only 40 minutes longer than Earth's, conveniently within the range that most people's circadian rhythms can adapt to.

    • Antarctica has air, so maybe not that comparable.

      The closest would be the death zone close to the summit of Everest or K2 (without the stunning views). Once in the death zone, you start dying and keep dying until you come back down the slope.

    • Well, maybe. If you were living in an Antarctica whose most violent winds were barely as strong as a light breeze, and had the benefit of incorporating free vacuum-thermos grade insulation into all of your structures and garments.. That super-thin atmosphere has it's advantages after all - "air temperature" is more of a theoretical concept, and in practice you need only guard against radiant thermal losses and conduction into the ground.

    • ...only the twist is that thanks to time dilation while Fogg thought it only took 80 days it actually took 81 in solar system's reference frame so he actually lost the bet.
    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      Yes, it sounds like Musk is more a fan of Jules Verne than Copernicus or Kepler. 80 days will take a lot of energy.

  • by Radish03 ( 248960 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @12:10AM (#52974153)

    The games start out as zero-G laser tag, with the winners moving on to a grueling regimen of real-time strategy games...

  • Doing some maths... sending 200 people per trip, and 50 trips, means 10k people sent there. Assuming half are women, and each woman has 5 children, there'd then be 35k people. Assume every 20 years each new generation also has 5 children. It'd take 80 years for the population to reach a population of 977k, minus those who died in those 80 years. That said, why would a million people be needed or even desirable? Large numbers of manual laborers won't be required due to the large amount of advanced machinery

    • Why would you send 50% female? To ensure success you'd want to send 2/3 female (or more). If you're limited in the number of people you can send (and he is), then you'd want to send as many young females as possible, with a few young men to impregnate them.
      • by iris-n ( 1276146 )

        That's a bad idea for genetic diversity. If you want to maximize organic growth you should send an all-female crew and a huge sperm bank that they can choose from.

        I find this idea rather distasteful, however. It is unfair to the men who want to go to Mars, and is using women just as baby factories instead of qualified workers.

        But besides moral problems, it is also very inefficient. There is no point in sending a crew to Mars that will be busy taking care of newborns in a very hostile environment. Much bette

      • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @12:00PM (#52976913) Journal

        Muffley:Well, I, I would hate to have to decide...who stays up and...who goes down.

        Dr. Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary, Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross-section of necessary skills. Of course, it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. Ha, ha. But ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present Gross National Product within say, twenty years.

        Muffley: But look here doctor, wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

        Dr. Strangelove: No, sir...excuse me...When they go down into the mine, everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! [involuntarily gives the Nazi salute and forces it down with his other hand]Ahhh!

        Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?

        Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious...service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

        Russian Ambassador: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.

    • Most women on earth don't want to have 5 babies - let's assume they wouldn't on Mars either, Also, it's unclear that it's possible to gestate in that environment, large doses of radiation and a low G environment do not sound favourable, plus the dangers associated with being 80 (hard) days away from medical facilities, most women would probably forgo that option.

      I'd agree that large numbers of colonists would be problematic. There is no way to generate income, because Mars has no industry, no supply chai

      • Re:1Million People (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @07:35AM (#52975433) Homepage

        Meh, limited trade with Earth is certainly in the cards; the question of "how limited" depends on a lot of factors, but particularly their return launch costs. Even simple "Martian rock", sold as collectables or decorative stone, in small quantities could fetch tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. Collectables markets and luxury goods markets ("Oh, the foyer in your palace is granite from Tuscany? How quaint - my foyer is from Mars") are very real things. But one order of magnitude difference in return prices equates to multiple orders of magnitude difference in the size of the market. Likewise, what exactly is available will also affect the value. A brittle sandstone for example isn't going to get the same market for the same price as big chunks of agate. We don't know what all will be found on Mars, but the presence of hydrothermal systems is encouraging; they're associated with quartz, calcite, chalcedony (agate, onyx, etc), zeolites, opal, etc. The jewelry market would be excellent to be able to break into, in terms of the scale versus what they pay per kilogram.

    • Doing some maths... sending 200 people per trip, and 50 trips, means 10k people sent there. Assuming half are women, and each woman has 5 children...

      It's a bad summary; there is no breeding required to make the numbers work. I watched Musk's talk, and it's really 50 fleets not 50 ships. Groups of about 200 ships will leave at about the same time for reasons of orbital mechanics and safety.

      [50 fleets] * [200 ships per fleet] * [100 people per ship] = [1 million people]

      Either way, the larger problem is figuring out how to move enough equipment and supplies to keep the colonists alive; it's doubtful that even one million people is anywhere close to enoug

      • Either way, the larger problem is figuring out how to move enough equipment and supplies to keep the colonists alive; it's doubtful that even one million people is anywhere close to enough to produce a self-sustaining ultra-high-tech society in a super-hostile environment as Musk envisions.

        I suspect there may be some trade elements to the plan. No one says there won't be other traffic to Mars (and beyond).

        Having just finished reading about the early years of European voyages to Australia I can see similarities - except that the Europeans were more naive about the risks and less concerned about the worst case scenarios. Come to think of it - all the early "explorers", whalers, seal hunters etc endured harsh conditions and high loss rates - but their enterprises were not for naught. Mars and be

    • Re:1Million People (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GNious ( 953874 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @03:21AM (#52974709)

      Sending even 100 people is pointless unless it's been proven that a handful of people can survive there. .

      Sending a handful of people, and 1 of them passes away due to whatever, you've lost 20% of your workforce, and significant skills, which is likely to destroy the sustainability of your colony.

  • I wish this effort all the best, but I think we're going to find that life without stable ecosystems or a magnetosphere is not going to be easy. We take much for granted here on Earth, and though the technology may allow us to land some people there, I predict that living healthy lives with a stable local food supply is going to take a lot more than the rocket scientists are counting on. Biochemistry and ecology have vastly more complex open systems to deal with, but that's what we come from.

    Better send a

    • Re:What's missing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by blindseer ( 891256 ) < minus cat> on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @03:56AM (#52974837)

      While I see your point I believe that there are bigger issues to solve first. The technology is easy compared to many of the non-technological issues that caused colonization efforts to fail before. Take as examples many failed colonies from the age of sail to more recent efforts to create new nations on artificial structures like islands or "floating cities". What caused many of them to fail were not technology but issues like people having disputes over property rights, people not doing their "fair share" of the work to maintain the colony, how crimes are dealt with, taxation disputes, and so forth.

      These "soft science" problems in fields like psychology, economics, law, and so forth are (to me at least) bigger questions than "hard science" problems like building a big enough rocket, being able to grow veggies, or creating enough oxygen for people to breathe.

      I've thought about how these issues might be solved and considered writing a story basically proposing solutions. You propose sending robots to Mars first to build things for the colonists. What I have to ask is, who owns what the robots build? That might not seem like a big problem at first but for the people on Mars it might be a matter of who lives and dies. I can just imagine a person hoarding valuable items, or even valuable data, and causing problems. Valuable data like how to repair an important item can be a means to declare ownership of something. If one of these robots sent to Mars to build things for the colonists breaks then what? Can a person on Mars then declare ownership of the robot, and therefore anything it builds in the future, by repairing it? Would ownership have to be shared in some way and in what proportion?

      I believe that solving the problems on how to live on Mars is more than just what biochemistry and ecology can answer. We can send robots but we'll also have to send lawyers.

    • A magnetosphere is rather premature, don't you think? We'd need to build an atmosphere first - and if we can accomplish that in less than several thousand years, then, maintaining it against the slow loss to the solar wind should be child's play.

      Meanwhile, building and maintaining long-term artificial ecosystems should provide a great deal of knowledge that will be useful as we navigate the drastic climate changes Earth will likely be undergoing over the next few centuries. As yet, we've only seriously a

  • Jules Verne, eat your heart out.
  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @03:13AM (#52974687)
    The shuttle programme cost about half a billion $$$ per launch, just for 1 vehicle to LEO.

    Let's assume that with a decent design, efficient management and commercial flair the cost of a Mars mission is about the same - per journey: take-off to landing.

    Let's also assume that for every populated launch, there is another that just carries supplies. The cost for 100 people to the red planet is about $1Bn - $10m per head. Now, I am sure there are plenty of people who would pay that amount. There are also many more that we (as the occupants of Earth) would be willing to raise the capital to send them - whether they want to go or not.

    But to sustain $20Bn or more investment for 40 - 100 years before you have a viable colony needs more financing than one single internet outfit can provide - there are only so many millionaires who would be willing to walk away from their lives here on Earth. That kind of investment would only come from a nation or a religion.

    It would also seem likely that some time after Musk got his operation running, there would be other operators entering the game. They would be setting up alternative colonies, for their own reasons and with their own goals in mind. It occurs to me that for a competing group, the simplest, least risky and cheapest route would be to NOT start up themselves, but to infiltrate or take over Musk's operation and then gain control of the colony (either by force, commercial shenanigans on Earth or indoctrination of the colonists) once it became self-sufficient.

  • Doesn't it make more sense to test the building a colony on the Moon where it is easier to fix problems and send help?
    • Unfortunately, the problems are considerably more difficult, and the transportation costs almost as high. All the moon buys you is faster transit times, which is only relevant if your need for help can wait for several days.

      The moon is interesting primarily as a fuel, and perhaps eventually construction base, conveniently near (energetically) Earth orbit. And perhaps as a location for major radio telescopes on the far side, nicely shielded from Earth's radio noise. Mars is practically Earthlike in compar

  • by gsslay ( 807818 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @05:20AM (#52975075)
    I like it how Elon's opinion of his passengers is so low that he assumes the fact they are going to Mars won't be enough of an attraction for people. He has to make sure that the trip is "really fun" as well.

    I was thinking of booking myself on this. But even though I'll be getting the chance to stand on another planet, the trip sounds really boring. 80 days without access to a good restaurant and the latest Hollywood blockbuster? Who's going to put themselves through that kind of hardship?

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @07:01AM (#52975321)

    Somebody clearly has lost his marbles.

  • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Wednesday September 28, 2016 @08:07AM (#52975553)

    Phileas Fogg to sign up for the 80 day trip to Mars.

After any salary raise, you will have less money at the end of the month than you did before.