The world’s most visionary billionaires are saying all kinds of crazy stuff at the Code Conference going on in California this week. Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos wants to move dirty, polluting factories into space, and SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants to deliver humans to Mars in 2024.
Except, while ambitious, Musk’s plan is maybe not all that crazy. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is slated to carry humans to the International Space Station in 2017. Then, in 2018, the company aims to launch an uncrewed Dragon capsule to Mars.
SpaceX is working with NASA for the 2018 mission, but it’s unclear whether the space agency would be involved with Musk’s crewed missions to Mars, which he says could potentially launch in 2024 and arrive in 2025. That’s three years before Lockheed Martin plans to arrive in orbit, and long before NASA’s nebulous plan to land humans there in the 2030s or 40s.
But first, they’re gonna need a bigger rocket. SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 could technically make it to Mars, but it wouldn’t be able to carry much cargo–and astronauts will need lots of food and supplies for the journey, which could take a few years round trip.
The Falcon Heavy rocket, three times more powerful than the Falcon 9, is SpaceX’s ticket to Mars, but it hasn’t launched yet. After many delays, Falcon Heavy is currently slated to launch this fall.
After SpaceX finishes building and testing its ride, there are other issues they’ll have to tackle–such as how will they feed the astronauts, and how will the first Mars explorers live during the journey and while on Mars? Although the Crew Dragon looks super sleek, a group of explorers wouldn’t be able to spend 9 months inside it without losing their minds. The company would need to come up with some sort of habitat that attaches to the Crew Dragon to expand the living space–preferably something that protects the people inside from deep space radiation.
The path to Mars will not be easy, but if anyone can do it, it’s likely Musk. The billionaire plans to divulge more details about his plan to send humans to Mars this September.