Humanity shouldn't dally in its quest to colonize Mars, SpaceX's billionaire founder and CEO Elon Musk says.
"Now is the first time in the history of Earth that the window is open, where it's possible for us to extend life to another planet," Musk told a crowd on Tuesday at the annual winter meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
"That window may be open for a long time — and hopefully it is — but it also may be open for a short time," he added. "I think the wise move is to make life multi-planetary while we can."
The entrepreneur has repeatedly said that he founded SpaceX in 2002 primarily to help make humanity a multi-planet species. Having a self-sustaining outpost on the Red Planet would serve as an insurance policy, making humanity's extinction unlikely even if something goes terribly awry here on Earth, Musk said Tuesday.
Colonizing Mars would have other benefits as well, he added; the effort would greatly advance science discoveries and technological capabilities, and it would help inspire and excite people from all walks of life and from all around the globe.
Humanity could colonize Mars with a few key technological advances, Elon Musk said. Chief among them are fully and rapidly reusable rockets, and the ability to produce rocket propellant from local materials on the Red Planet.
Currently, rockets are used just once and then ditched into the ocean. That means a lot of money is sinking to the ocean floor after every launch.
For example, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket costs about $16 million to build, but the fuel for each of the booster's liftoffs costs just $200,000, Musk said Tuesday. So finding a way to fly rockets again and again has the potential to slash the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 100, he added.
Musk hopes to be a key player in the spread of humanity to another planet, but he doesn't expect to be around to see the full fruits of his labor.
"It will be super hard to do this, and it will take a long time," he said of Mars colonization. "I suspect I won't live to see it become self-sustaining."
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