Science

Elon Musk plans to send the first humans to Mars in 10 years, worst case

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In a recent interview with Lex Fridman, an artificial intelligence researcher and MIT podcaster, Elon Musk said that he takes exploring Mars very seriously for the first time in the near future – five years from now at best and ten years at worst. According to him, Starship, the most complex and advanced launcher ever built, in Musk’s words, has the potential to get humans to Mars safely.

The super-heavy launcher has the particularity of being totally reusable, which allows reducing costs and seriously considering the colonization of the red planet. Before that, Starship will be operated by NASA to bring Man back to the Moon in 2025. “I think we have to become a multiplanetary species,” said the CEO during the interview, adding that it is the first time since the existence of the Earth, 4,500 million years ago, that it is possible to extend life beyond our planet.

For Elon Musk, allowing man to access other worlds constitutes an emergency exit in case the Earth becomes uninhabitable; the billionaire in particular evokes a cataclysm similar to the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, the harmful activities of Man or the fact that the Sun gradually grows and that the Earth will inevitably get warmer as it gets closer. “We must act as quickly as possible whenever the window [d’opportunités] it is open, just in case it closes ”, sums up the CEO.

The costs are still too high to establish colonists on Mars

The fear that something serious is affecting our planet should be, according to him, sufficient motivation to conquer other planets. “There is a probability that something bad will happen on Earth,” Elon Musk said, recalling that Stephen Hawking had delivered the same speech a few years ago, during a conference at the Oxford Union in 2016; The astrophysicist then estimated that humanity would not survive 1000 more years on Earth and that it was necessary to continue exploring space to ensure our survival.

Spaceship under construction. © Flickr / SpaceX

Elon Musk insists he doesn’t want to just set foot (and flag) on ​​Mars and not come back for half a century, like lunar exploration. When Lex Fridman asks him what will be the biggest challenge to colonize Mars, the businessman points to the financial aspect. According to him, the costs of a mission to Mars are currently on the order of a billion dollars per ton, a sum that includes not only the launcher and the spacecraft, but also a heat shield, a guidance system, communication systems. space. , or a landing system.

However, this sum is still too high to create a self-sufficient civilization; in fact, it will be necessary to plan several trips to bring to Mars all the materials and equipment necessary for the construction of a new civilization. “It should be improved by at least a factor of a thousand,” he said. Ideally, costs should be reduced to less than $ 1 million per ton, he said. But to begin with, it is simply a matter of setting foot on Mars over the next decade and SpaceX has a priori all the assets necessary to achieve this feat.

A deferred first orbital flight for Starship

From a technical point of view, the project seems really possible. It will still be necessary to find volunteers to settle on this inhospitable planet … But Starship, of which Elon Musk seems so proud, must also prove its worth: if the last test flight, carried out in May 2021, was carried out successfully, Let us remember that the previous four high-altitude flights resulted in explosions upon landing. And the machine has yet to complete an orbital test flight, during which it will be powered by a prototype of the Super Heavy.

However, it was eventually postponed for several months. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in late December that it needed more time to respond to the more than 18,000 public comments received after the first draft of the programmatic environmental assessment; The final version is expected to be released on February 28. It turns out that SpaceX’s launch site, located in Boca Chica in South Texas, is located in an area where a dozen endangered species of animals live. Preserved from all human activity before the arrival of SpaceX, the area now suffers the full brunt of the inconvenience caused by the company.

If the FAA does not give the green light, the company could be forced to completely review its operations, possibly causing a bit of delay in the next test flights; a dozen are scheduled for this year. SpaceX had also mentioned a first orbital flight for this January. But it appears the company is preparing for any scenario as it is building a new launch pad for its Starship rockets in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

YouTube / Lex Fridman

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