Billionaire Elon Musk said his private spaceflight company SpaceX has made some progress toward establishing a permanent colony on Mars — a longtime goal in the entrepreneur's push to help make humanity a multi-planet species.
"The reason SpaceX was created was to accelerate development of rocket technology, all for the goal of establishing a self-sustaining, permanent base on Mars," Musk told an audience here after receiving the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 33rd annual International Space Development Conference on Friday.
SpaceX's Elon Musk accepts the Explorers Club President's Award for Exploration and Technology at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on March 15, 2014 during the Explorers Club Annual Dinner.
Musk cited the success of SpaceX's recent reusable rocket test on April 18 as a critical achievement on the road to Mars. During that test flight, SpaceX launched a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket from its Florida pad and then returned the rocket's first stage back to Earth to make a vertical "soft landing" at a target in the Atlantic Ocean, before splashing down. The mission also delivered supplies to the International Space Station using a SpaceX Dragon capsule.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is also developing the Falcon Heavy rocket, a heavy-lift variant that aims to be the world's most powerful rocket since NASA's Saturn V moon rocket. That mega-rocket could make its first launch by the end of this year.
The Hawthorne, California-based company has also set its sights on a manned Mars mission concept that would send human explorers to the Red Planet. Musk said SpaceX's vision for a Mars exploration calls for a next-generation rocket "much bigger than Falcon Heavy" that would use a methane-based propulsion system.
"I think that's the system that, at least according to my calculations, will enable someone to move to Mars for about half a million dollars," Musk said.
This still from a SpaceX mission concept video shows a Dragon space capsule landing on the surface of Mars. SpaceX's Dragon is a privately built space capsule to carry unmanned payloads, and eventually astronauts, into space.
Musk admitted that not everyone would jump at the chance to pay $500,000 for a trip to Mars. But some adventurous people might.
"There will be those who can afford to go, and those who want to go," Musk said. "I think if we can achieve that intersection, then it will happen … and, hopefully, it will happen before I'm dead."
- Tariq Malik, Space.com
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First published May 20 2014, 10:25 AM