Yesterday, Elon Musk revealed his plan to colonize Mars by sending 1 million people there by the end of the century. That was a weird sentence to write.
It all sounds a bit crazy, and it is. There are a huge number of unknowns, seemingly insurmountable challenges, and so on. You can view all the slides from the presentation here, a replay of the live stream here, and see an animation of the proposal here.
So what do we know so far, and what are some of the outstanding questions about Musk’s plan? Let’s take a look.
What did Musk reveal?
A huge new rocket and spaceship that will take people to Mars, and possibly other destinations like Europa and Enceladus, dubbed the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS).
How big is the rocket?
It's 122 meters (400 feet) tall, making it the biggest rocket in history. NASA’s Saturn V, the current record holder, was 111 meters (364 feet). Musk's vehicle will also be three and a half times more powerful.
How the Mars Vehicle compares to the Saturn V. SpaceX
How will it work?
A spaceship laden with people will launch into Earth orbit. Here, it will dock with another ship carrying fuel, and stock up on said fuel. The former will then journey to Mars, travel through the atmosphere, and land vertically on the surface using thrusters.
People will then step out onto Mars and... do something. We don't know that part of things yet.
The rockets and spaceships are all designed to be reusable, saving on cost.
How long will it take to get there?
As short as 80 days.
When will it launch?
Musk optimistically says the first manned launch will be as soon as 2024, with the whole project taking 40 to 100 years to complete. Unmanned practice launches will begin in 2018 with the Red Dragon spacecraft.
Who will go?
Anyone. Each ship can take 100 people (and later 200) to Mars. Musk envisions 10,000 launches to get 1 million people there.
To save the human race from extinction.
Uh, okay. Is this realistic?
Depends who you ask. SpaceX fanatics will say yes – Musk has grown the company from nothing in 2002 to one of the world’s primary launch operators today.
Musk also revealed that 5 percent of SpaceX staff are already working on this at the moment, and they’ve also developed the rocket’s engines (Raptor). He even showed off a prototype fuel tanker for the spaceship.
The prototype fuel tanker. SpaceX