SpaceX Investments in Mars Exploration Continue
The world has heard much talk about Elon Musk and his ambitions for SpaceX (or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation). He founded the company for the very purpose of reaching Mars one day.
To build the kind of revenue needed to fund such a mission, SpaceX started out by supplying rockets and modules to run missions on behalf of NASA. Now, SpaceX is putting some actual money into going to Mars.
The Conquest of Mars
The conquest of Mars—that is the actual landing of humans on the red planet—remains a dream. Some want to make the dream a reality and they have set out on the major astronomical challenge of the 21st century alongside Musk. Presumably, by the 22nd century, migration will be more of a space than a planet Earth phenomenon. SpaceX is the one company that is leading the effort more than any other to move this concept from science fiction to the current events section in your daily newspaper.
SpaceX announced plans to launch a series of “Dragon” capsules to Mars last April. It’s a highly ambitious plan for a single private company. Indeed, there are such high risks that no one expects a SpaceX IPO (initial public offering) anytime soon. Now, the first accounting figures for the mission are available. Outer space or not, without money, you don’t butter no turnips, not even in space. SpaceX will have to spend $300 million, invested entirely by itself, to launch the initial unmanned flights to Mars—the so-called “Red Dragon Lander” mission.
NASA Adding Some Weight to Mars Mission
NASA, however, also has Mars exploration plans. It will support SpaceX, but it plans to spend only a tenth of what SpaceX spends. (Source: “SpaceX estimated to spend $300 million on Red Dragon mission,” SpaceNews, July 27, 2016.) Jim Reuter, Deputy Associate Administrator for programs in NASA’s space technology mission directorate, said that NASA was going to spend just $3.02 million as part of its Space Act Agreement signed with SpaceX.
NASA and SpaceX are working hand-in-hand for the mission. It will focus on developing and testing the spacecraft that will deliver the first capsule towards the Mars destination, known as “Crew Dragon,” built by SpaceX and tested by NASA. SpaceX will draw on NASA’s expertise on several crucial aspects of the mission. This will include everything from engineering support to choosing the most suitable landing site on Mars. In return, SpaceX will provide valuable information on the landing of NASA’s Red Dragon on Mars, essential data that NASA needs to launch its first manned mission to the red planet in 2030.
How Realistic Is the Mars Colonization Plan?
That’s all fine and dandy, but how realistic are Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans? Musk, a South African with a Canadian and American passport, appears to be trying to live out his teenage fantasies, which are filled with too much science fiction. Perhaps he gained some valuable and realistic answers to his questions, as they failed Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, both miserable men who wrote depressing but realistic verses.
The ultimate problem with SpaceX is not the idea of sending a manned mission to Mars. That would be interesting, fascinating, and realistic…in time. It would be just as interesting to send a mission to orbit Mars. No, the problem is something else. It’s the idea that humans need to colonize it.
Our future is not on other planets; it’s on Earth. The idea of colonizing because our very own Earth will become uninhabitable is a dangerous and expensive fantasy. At least writer and philosopher Stephen Cave and astronomers Lucianne Walkowicz and Huw Price from the University of Cambridge think so. (Source: “Colonise Mars as humanity’s plan B? It’s a dangerous fantasy,” New Scientist, April 1, 2016.)
The Bottom Line on SpaceX
Musk has been saying for years that SpaceX will take humankind to Mars. Musk wants to create a colony on Mars—apparently, humanity will need to get there to survive, sooner or later. The fact that NASA will be funding the Mars plans and spending a tenth less than SpaceX is an indicator of how realistically the one true space agency thinks about Mars colonies.
But, like any superhero, Musk, likened to Tony Stark of Iron Man fame, is a magician of communication. He uses tweets and online events with sudden timelines and surprises. As an example, Musk delivered his vision for Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) after sending a mysterious tweet for a big announcement.
Still, SpaceX is free to try—with its own money.