On Tuesday afternoon, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled his company’s detailed plans for transporting people to Mars and establishing a human settlement on the red planet by 2022.
In an effort to protect humanity from certain doom, the tech billionaire unveiled his ambitious plans to colonize Mars within the next decade during a keynote talk at the 67th International Astronautical Congress on Sept. 27, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Tuesday.
“It’s something we can do in our lifetimes,” Musk said during the much-anticipated speech, which was streamed online and watched by more than 100,000 people. “You could go.”
For more than 10 years, Musk has broadly spoken about visiting Mars and has championed the idea that humanity’s best hope for survival is by extending our reach into the solar system. However, Tuesday’s speech was the first time he put forth a specific plan to get there.
“History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever and then there will be some eventual extinction event,” Musk said during the speech. “The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species which, I hope you would agree, that is the right way to go,” he said.
During the 1.5-hour presentation, Musk finally provided specific details of SpaceX’s vision for sending humans to Mars, from what industries the planet could sustain — “iron foundries, pizza joints, you name it’’ — to how SpaceX would entertain its passengers with movies and gourmet fare during the 115-day journey to Mars.
The highlight of Musk’s presentation was a video simulation showing its new Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) spacecraft that is designed to send the first humans to Mars. The video shows a massive rocket taking off from the Kennedy Space Center, placing a spacecraft in orbit. The rocket then returns to Earth, is mounted with a second spacecraft that then refuels the first spacecraft in orbit. That spacecraft then flies to Mars.
The craft would be made in largely of carbon fiber and fueled by methane, which can be synthesized using elements available on Mars itself — a key aspect of the self-sustaining character of the colony Musk wants to build.
The SpaceX founder said he plans to start transporting the first humans to Mars and establishing a self-sustaining city on the neighboring planet starting in 2022. The company wants to start flying uncrewed missions to Mars by 2018, with more missions to follow approximately every two years, when the distance between Mars and Earth is closest.
Eventually, SpaceX hopes to have about 1,000 spaceships that would start out flying 100 people each, along with enough supplies to sustain them once they arrive on Mars. Over time, the company would try to double the number of passengers. Once passenger launches began, Musk estimates it would take as little as 40 to 100 years to achieve a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.
The tech billionaire was less specific about who would finance his ambitious plans, only saying that it would be a “huge public private partnership,” and that he expected support to “snowball.”
One of the largest problems with traveling to Mars is the cost, which Musk acknowledged needs to decrease significantly in order for colonization to work. Right now, Musk estimates a trip to Mars would cost $10 billion per person, although he said he would like to bring that cost down to about $200,000.
Known for his massive wealth, Musk commented that his “only motivation” for amassing personal wealth and starting SpaceX is to fund his vision of making life “multiplanetary.”
Musk’s speech comes as SpaceX — the most recognizable private spaceflight company in the world — is attempting to rebound from a high-profile setback earlier this month. On Sept. 1, one of the company’s unmanned Falcon 9 rockets exploded on its pad just two days before it was scheduled to launch an Israeli communications satellite. Both the rocket and payload were destroyed, though no injuries were reported as a result of the mishap.
Engineers are still working to track down the cause of the accident. In the meantime, SpaceX launches are on hold until the investigation is complete. SpaceX had a rigorous launch schedule planned for 2016 — with 18 missions expected to fly to space — but the accident threw a wrench into those plans.
Although it’s not the first setback for SpaceX, which has seen rockets explode before, Musk called it the company’s “most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.”
It is important to note that SpaceX has yet to fly humans to space at all. However, that could change as soon as next year when the company is expected to fly astronauts to the International Space Station under a contract with NASA. But, as The Guardian notes, the explosion earlier this month has led some to question whether SpaceX can reliably send cargo to the International Space Station, “let alone take people to Mars.
You can watch the Musk’s entire talk here on YouTube.