Musk’s 2022 Mar­tian Space Odyssey

De­spite earthly setbacks, Tesla’s Elon Musk says the Star­ship will send its first pay­load to Mars in 2022 and its first manned mis­sion in 2024.

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - HAMZA SHA­BAN | The Wash­ing­ton Post

DE­SPITE the high like­li­hood of dy­ing even be­fore ar­riv­ing and daily con­di­tions hos­tile to hu­man life, Elon Musk said in an in­ter­view on Sun­day that he’ll prob­a­bly move to Mars.

The Spacex chief ex­ec­u­tive said there’s a “70% chance” he’ll get to Mars within his life­time, with plans to per­ma­nently re­set­tle on the Red Planet. Musk said his de­sire to colonise Mars is driven by the same pas­sion that fu­els peo­ple to climb moun­tains – for the chal­lenge.

“We’ve re­cently made a num­ber of break­throughs that I am just re­ally fired up about,” Musk said dur­ing an in­ter­view with “Ax­ios on HBO”.

Musk’s re­marks are the lat­est in a se­ries of bold an­nounce­ments that have de­fined his ca­reer in re­cent years, from his aim to trans­form the auto in­dus­try with elec­tric ve­hi­cles made by his com­pany Tesla to the goal of colonis­ing Earth’s neigh­bour­ing planet.

Spacex as­pires to send its first cargo mis­sion to Mars in 2022, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, with a manned mis­sion tar­geted for 2024.

Musk an­nounced last week that the com­pany has re­named its mas­sive Mars ves­sel the Star­ship (it was pre­vi­ously dubbed the Big Fal­con Rocket). The rocket boost­ers that will al­low the ve­hi­cle to es­cape Earth’s grav­ity are called the Su­per Heavy. Nasa, too, has am­bi­tions to send hu­mans to Mars, although some­time in the 2030s. China is also ex­pand­ing its space pro­gramme with the goal of launch­ing a Mars probe around 2020. Sci­en­tists are in­ter­ested in go­ing to Mars for a host of reasons, from learn­ing more about the ori­gins of life to bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the rise and col­lapse of po­ten­tially life-sup­port­ing en­vi­ron­ments. The planet was not al­ways the desert world that it ap­pears to be to­day. Its now empty lakes and chan­nels sug­gest that liq­uid wa­ter once flowed on the sur­face, which may in­di­cate that a thicker at­mos­phere once en­veloped the planet, per­haps sup­port­ing life.

Sci­en­tists see it as a “failed planet”, with con­di­tions hos­tile to hu­mans.

Dur­ing the in­ter­view, Musk com­pared the propo­si­tion to colonise Mars to ex­plorer Ernest Shack­le­ton’s ex­pe­di­tions to Antarc­tica.

He said the price of a ticket to Mars would cost hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars, with no guar­an­tee of re­turn or even sur­vival dur­ing the trip or upon land­ing but, de­spite the daunt­ing jour­ney, Musk sees a worth­while trade-off.

“You know there’s lots of peo­ple who climb moun­tains ... why do they climb moun­tains? Peo­ple die on Mount Ever­est all the time,” he said. “They like do­ing it for the chal­lenge.”

Ear­lier this year, Spacex pledged to ad­vance its space ex­plo­ration ef­forts by re­veal­ing the iden­tity of its first pay­ing tourist who would take a trip around the moon. In 2023, Ja­panese bil­lion­aire Yusaku Maezawa and six to eight artists are ten­ta­tively sched­uled to fly to the moon on a week-long trip. Their ve­hi­cle, the Star­ship, at nearly 122 me­tres tall, is still in devel­op­ment and is slated to com­plete its first flights to orbit in two to three years.

How­ever, Spacex and Musk’s in­ter­plan­e­tary plans have ex­pe­ri­enced setbacks. The com­pany re­cently an­nounced a de­lay in its ini­tial mis­sion to fly Nasa as­tro­nauts to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. Spacex also de­layed its plans to fly tourists around the moon.

Musk has also drawn scru­tiny for his per­sonal be­hav­iour. Last week, Nasa or­dered a safety re­view of Spacex af­ter Musk par­tic­i­pated in a pop­u­lar pod­cast, in which he smoked weed and drank whiskey on an episode streamed on­line.

His ac­tions ran­kled some of Nasa’s top of­fi­cials and, in a months-long as­sess­ment, the agency is tak­ing a close look at Spacex’s cul­ture.

Nasa will also con­duct a safety re­view of Boe­ing, another com­pany un­der con­tract with Nasa to trans­port as­tro­nauts to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

| Reuters

MARCO-B, one of the ex­per­i­men­tal Mars Cube One (MARCO) Cubesats, took this im­age of Mars from 6 000km away dur­ing its flyby of the Red Planet on Novem­ber 26, 2018.

| Reuters

Nasa’s Cu­rios­ity Mars Rover snaps a self-por­trait at a site called Vera Ru­bin Ridge on the Mar­tian sur­face ear­lier this year.


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