In the paper, Musk explores the planetary options for expanding to a space-bearing civilisation and describes the advantages Mars offers. He provides a comprehensive review of a system architecture required for a rocket and spaceship capable of transporting people and supplies to Mars, comparing possible vehicle designs and performance features. A major challenge facing engineers and scientists at present and discussed in the article is the need to improve the cost per ton of transporting materials to Mars by 5 million percent.
Musk wants to put 1 million people on Mars sometime in the near future for less than $200,000 per head. Before then, four crucial things need to happen, according to Musk; scout out the terrain, drop off a fuel-production factory, send a few pioneers, and then send a bunch more.
Scott Hubbard, New Space's editor-in-chief, said: “In my view, publishing this paper provides not only an opportunity for the spacefaring community to read the SpaceX vision in print with all the charts in context, but also serves as a valuable archival reference for future studies and planning.”
In the 15-page article, Musk explains why Mars is his first choice for human colonisation, how an Interplanetary Transport System would function, what time frame could be, and where to go after settling on Mars – including Jupiter’s moons Europa and Enceladus. He also, cautiously, predicts that the earliest flights could take place by 2023, reaching his goal of 1 million people and a fully self-sustaining civilisation on the planet 50 to 100 years after that.
These timeframes may seem unrealistic, but since 2002 SpaceX has gone from a concept to launching reusable rockets to supply the International Space Station. However, there are still many questions left needing answers. For example, there are no details about how the 100-strong crew would live in the rocket for the months it would take to travel from Earth to Mars.
However, Musk claims: “In order to make it appealing it has got to be really fun and exciting – it cannot feel cramped or boring.” He describes the inside of the rocket ship as a place to play zero gravity games, go to movies, attend lectures and eat pizza.
“By talking about the SpaceX Mars architecture, I want to make Mars seem possible – make it seem as though it is something that we can do in our lifetime,” Musk adds. “There really is a way that anyone could go if they wanted to.”