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article imageNew academic paper details Elon Musk's plans to colonize Mars

By Karen Graham     Mar 28, 2018 in Science
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk published an academic paper earlier this month outlining his vision for a future where the Red Planet is permanently inhabited.
On September 27, 2016, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, speaking to a rapt audience at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, finally told the world about his company's long-anticipated plans to colonize Mars.
In a presentation that lasted nearly an hour, Musk said it will take “40 to 100 years to achieve a fully self-sustaining civilization" on the Red Planet.
An illustration of SpaceX s and Elon Musk s  Big F---ing Rocket  system launching toward space.
An illustration of SpaceX's and Elon Musk's "Big F---ing Rocket" system launching toward space.
That 2016 talk, along with information on the updated design for what SpaceX is currently calling BFR, and ideas on how to pay for the mission, is included in a thoughtfully written academic paper published this month in the journal New Space.
Musk's full paper, titled "Making Life Multi-Planetary," is available to read online for free. It opens with a quote from Musk: “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great - and that's what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It's about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can't think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”
I know, we have heard that quote someplace before, right? It comes from Musk's October 2017 presentation to the International Astronautical Congress. It does a good job of summing up what Elon Musk is all about — the driving force behind his grandiose plans for the future of humankind.
Vehicle overview: Falcon 1  Falcon 9  Falcon Heavy and BFR.
Vehicle overview: Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and BFR.
Making life multi-planetary with SpaceX
Everyone remembers that during his talk in 2016, Musk talked about his plans to build a fully reusable system known as the BFR, Big Falcon Rocket, or — as Musk often calls it — "the Big F---ing Rocket." Musk's version of the BFR is conspicuously absent from the published paper, but we won't tell.
Musk writes that the 348-foot-tall system will have two main parts: a 191-foot-tall reusable rocket booster and a 157-foot-tall reusable spaceship. The main body diameter of the BFR is about 9 meters or 30 feet and the booster is lifted by 31 Raptor engines that produce a thrust of about 5,400 tons, lifting the 4,400-ton vehicle straight up.
The spaceship is being designed to carry 100 people or 140,000 lbs into low-Earth orbit. And with that big a spaceship, it will contain 1,100 tons of propellant. And in the new paper, Musk says the spaceship can be refilled with fuel while in orbit, then fired off to the moon, Mars, or somewhere else in the solar system.
Mars transportation architecture.
Mars transportation architecture.
Remember what Musk said about his timelines when he visited SXSW? “People have told me that my timelines historically have been optimistic," he said to great laughter from the audience. But Musk is optimistic about launching the first mission to Mars in 2022.
The mission would drop off equipment to harvest water and carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into methane using solar energy. He also mentions the need for a two-year time frame as being so very important in getting Mars launches off. It all has to do with the Earth-Mars synchronization that happens roughly every two years, so every two years there is an opportunity to fly to Mars, Musk explains.
Future Mars Base simulation
Future Mars Base simulation
How will be live on Mars?
Musk has not explained in any great detail how he would keep anyone alive on the Moon or Mars, except in general terms. But he did shed some light on the entrepreneurial opportunities that would be available while at SXSW earlier this month.
"It will start off building just the most elementary infrastructure, just a base to create some propellant, a power station, blast domes in which to grow crops — all of the sorts of fundamentals without which you cannot survive," Musk said. "And then really there's gonna be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints. I think Mars should really have great bars: the Mars Bar."
A SpaceX Fakcon 9 will carry the Beresheet into orbit.
A SpaceX Fakcon 9 will carry the Beresheet into orbit.
How do we pay for this system?
As Musk so aptly puts it in his paper, “How do we pay for this system?” Musk has obviously given the question a lot of thought, and the answer, to him is fairly clear. He writes: "If we can build a system that cannibalizes our own products, makes our own products redundant, then all of the resources, which are quite enormous, that are used for Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon can be applied to one system."
And then there is the money SpaceX makes from launching satellites and servicing the International Space Station, too. These funds will be used in building the BFR. And Musk isn't leaving the Moon out as a base either. "Becoming a multi-planet species beats the hell out of being a single planet species," he writes.
Grab a cup of coffee and go to the New Space web page, sit back and read the paper. It is written exactly like Musk talks - with easy-to-understand explanations and pure excitement almost jumping off the page. It is hard not to get caught up in the dream.
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