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Elon Musk Unveils Plans To Colonize Mars

Elon Musk says the space ship that will take humans to Mars launches from Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 39-A. Photo: SpaceX
Elon Musk says the space ship that will take humans to Mars launches from Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 39-A. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled his plans to send humans to Mars by the hundreds.

A rocket ship, called the Interplanetary Transport System, is taller than the Saturn V and nearly 40 feet wide. The ship would send about 100 people on an 80-day trip to the red planet. It’s part of Elon Musk’s ambitious plan to colonize Mars. He said he needs about one million people to make the Mars colony sustainable.

The rocket is powered by a booster with 42 engines and is reusable. A transport ship with Mars-bound travelers would launch from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 39A. Then a 'tanker' ship would launch multiple times to fuel the transport ship before heading to the red planet.

The ship, Musk said, will have some comforts of home, including a "pizza joint." Musk hopes to launch the first rocket as early as 2023.

While Musk’s talk at a space conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, was mostly his vision for the future, work has started on his plan. His team at SpaceX designed and built the ship’s fuel tank. SpaceX tested a new engine called Raptor at a facility in Texas this week. That engine uses methane to provide more than three times the amount of thrust than the Merlin engine used on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets.

Musk said that most of the manufacturing of the space craft would happen around the Gulf of Mexico and would ship to Florida’s Space Coast for final assembly.

A major hurdle is cost. Musk says with current technology, it would cost about $10 billion to send someone to Mars. He said his plan would lower that cost to $200,000. But Musk acknowledges there needs to be a substantial investment in the project. He said SpaceX's business operations, like launching satellites to orbit and supplies to the International Space Station, will help with those costs. To raise additional funds, Musk said he wants to start a KickStarter campaign.

SpaceX is still working to figure out why a rocket on a different pad exploded earlier this month. Musk says that’s one of the most challenging issues the private space company has come across.


Brendan Byrne is WMFE's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the WMFE newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing WMFE's internship program.

Byrne also hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.
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