Elon Musk didn’t become a billionaire by thinking small. For nearly a decade, the Silicon Valley pioneer and futurist has put much of his considerable resources behind SpaceX, a reusable rocket program that has already played a key role in resupplying the International Space Station.
But Musk’s ambitions go far beyond picking up the slack NASA left behind when it ceded the commercial end of rocketry to the private sector. During a recent speech before the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Australia, Musk reiterated his plan to get life support, construction and mining equipment to Mars within five years.
Astronauts sent to the Red Planet via SpaceX in 2024 will then begin laying the foundation for the first Martian outpost.
Musk also unveiled plans for an updated version of his SpaceX fleet called the Interplanetary Transport System, or BFR for Big Falcon Rocket, a major redesign of the original booster and cabin.
The enormous but sleek BFR will be able to accommodate as many as 100 people per rocket. It will be used to establish a base on the moon, where many of the skills and technologies needed to plant a successful Martian colony will be tested.
For those who believe the Martian and moonbase phases of Musk’s dream will never make it out of dry dock, the entrepreneur announced that the same rockets will be used for making jaunts between New York and Shanghai in less than 45 minutes.
If SpaceX succeeds, then it will be possible to fly to and from the most remote cities on the planet in less than an hour. It is expected to become a very lucrative funding source. All of this is very exciting, but there is reason to be skeptical that Musk’s timeline, especially as it pertains to Mars, is even possible.
Still, the world needs dreamers like Elon Musk. The most audacious explorers always come across as unrealistic until they succeed in doing what was previously thought impossible. If interplanetary travel is part of the next stage in human evolution, Musk will likely have some role in it.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE