Human colonies on planets other than Earth may not be nothing more than a science fiction movie plot, at least not if Elon Musk's plans to establish a 80,000 person Mars colony is successful.
Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, the same privately owned space flight company that provides resupply missions for NASA. He first made his plans known when he spoke to London's Royal Aeronautical Society on November 16th of this year. During his presentation, Musk told attendees that "Mars was ripe for terraforming."
On Tuesday, he posted the following on his Twitter account:
"Millions of people needed for Mars colony, so 80k+ would just be the number moving to Mars per year."
Musk followed up by saying he realizes the idea sounds crazy and that he does not expect SpaceX to colonize Mars without help. He also realizes that the goal of an 80,000 person colony will not be a quick process.
According to Space.com, Musk plans to begin the venture with a group of less than 10 people. Those people would travel to Mars aboard a reusable spacecraft powered by liquid oxygen and methane. The small group would take equipment and supplies needed to establish the colony. Such equipment would include machines for creating an inhabitable atmosphere, fertilizing the soils so crops can be grown, water producing equipment and construction materials. He acknowledges that the initial flight would not only be risky, but also very expensive. He estimates the total cost of colonizing Mars would be $36 billion, which would be paid for by both government funding and private enterprise investments.
Musk told Wired Magazine he came up with the idea to "spur national will", saying:
"I call it the Mars Oasis missions. The idea was to send a small greenhouse to the surface of Mars, packed with dehydrated nutrient gel that could be hydrated on landing. You’d wind up with this great photograph of green plants and red background—the first life on Mars, as far as we know, and the farthest that life’s ever traveled. It would be a great money shot, plus you’d get a lot of engineering data about what it takes to maintain a little greenhouse and keep plants alive on Mars."
The cost of becoming a Mars colonist will not come cheap, in fact, Musk plans on charging $500,000 per person for the Mars trip. He estimates once the colony is established and able to sustain the goal of 80,000 people, he will be able to raise $40 billion.
The rocket that Musk plans to use is a modernized SpaceX Falcon 9 booster, the same rocket that launches Dragon. A prototype of the next-generation Falcon 9, called Grasshopper, has already been developed. Grasshopper completed its first test flight on September 21st, reaching a height of 6 feet. On November 1st, it was test fired again and reached a height of 17.7 feet.
A video of the test flight can be seen here.
Musk told Space.com:
"Over the next few months, we’ll gradually increase the altitude and speed. I do think there probably will be some craters along the way; we’ll be very lucky if there are no craters. Vertical landing is an extremely important breakthrough — extreme, rapid re-usability. It’s as close to aircraft-like dispatch capability as one can achieve."
As one person told Digital Journal:
"I guess I need to start saving now, and hope I win the lottery."