SpaceX founder Elon Musk has a goal for humans in the next several decades: establish a colony on Mars.
Speaking yesterday at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in San Diego, Musk said it's time to start working on getting humans to Mars and establishing a mode of transportation that would make it more possible.
"Ultimately, the thing that is super important in the grand scale of history is, are we on a path to becoming a multi-planet species or not?" Musk said during his keynote address, according to PC Magazine. "If we're not, that's not a very bright future. We'll just be hanging out on Earth until some eventual calamity claims us."
To get the ball rolling, Musk said, a spacecraft that can carry the payload humans need to establish a base on Mars is most important. However, Musk acknowledged, doing so will be extremely "hard." He pointed out that a Mars trip will require a craft capable of carrying "50 metric tons in a fully reusable manner." SpaceX has a Falcon Heavy rocket that can carry 12 to 15 metric tons.
The Falcon Heavy could very well become the inspirational predecessor to any vehicle that gets people to Mars. Last month, SpaceX announced that it had broken ground on the Heavy's launch site at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. The spacecraft, which is expected to be brought to the launch site by the end of next year, can generate 140,000 pounds of thrust at sea level. And although it's meant to assist with low-Earth orbit missions, Musk said earlier this year that it could also explore space and send people to the moon.
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Musk isn't interested only in bringing life to Mars; he also wants to find out if life ever existed there.
Earlier this week, Space.com reported that SpaceX and NASA are crafting a mission called Red Dragon that could finally help determine whether there was ever life on Mars. The mission, which would cost an estimated $400 million if it's implemented, could launch in 2018.
But before that happens or humans get to Mars, some folks in Russia are already practicing for the long trek to the Red Planet. Last year, a group of 20- and 30-year-old men in Moscow jumped into hatches where they would stay for 520 days as part of a simulation to see how they fare during a simulated full-length trip to Mars and back. The men are scheduled to be released from the hatches on November 6.
November is a big month for Mars-related exploits. On November 25, NASA hopes to send its latest rover, Curiosity, into space for an eventual arrival on the Martian landscape next August.
"Mars is firmly in our sights," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement last month. "Curiosity not only will return a wealth of important science data, but it will serve as a precursor mission for human exploration to the Red Planet."