Elon Musk founded start-up space company SpaceX 14 years ago with a solid purpose: to establish a colony on Mars. In an interview with The Washington Post this week, he provides more information on how he plans to achieve that goal.

Things have started picking up for SpaceX, which plans to relaunch one of its four landed Falcon 9 rockets this fall. Musk counts on the success of reusable booster technology in reducing mission costs and helping realize human spaceflight.

Musk himself confirmed that a number of customers — including commercial satellite operator SES — have expressed their interest in launching their payloads on a reusable rocket.

SpaceX plans to fly an unmanned spacecraft to the Red Planet as soon as 2018, with the uncrewed flights continuing around every two years and at a time when Earth and Mars are closest in orbit. If all goes well, the first manned Mars mission landing is slated for 2025.

Just Like The Settlement Of The New World

“[It’s going to be] hard, risky, dangerous, difficult,” Musk told The Washington Post, although assuring his confidence that people would sign up for it just like others loved being pioneers in the “establishment of the English colonies.”

The SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO equated the mission’s spirit with the New World settlement by colonists crossing the Atlantic hundreds of years ago.

It remains, however, that the target planet is 140 million miles from ours, making immense preparation a must. The unmanned flights are aimed to transport science experiments and rovers to Mars — whether they are built by SpaceX or others — and lend insight into understanding safe interplanetary landing and navigation.

It’s essentially establishing a cargo route to the planet, Musk explained, deeming it a regular cargo route that can be counted on every 26 months as an inexpensive avenue for “great experiments.”

The 2018 journey will be on board the Dragon spacecraft launched by the massive Falcon Heavy rocket, which runs on 27 first-stage engines. The rocket would boast over 5 million pounds of thrust upon liftoff, which equates to 18,747 airplanes.

Audacious Landing

And it’s not just another Mars landing — it’s one of the most ambitious 43 robotics missions to the planet so far, only 18 of which proved successful. Dragon would be the biggest to land on the surface “by a factor of 10.”

Consider Musk’s plan all the more daunting given he is a private entity and not a government agency. Previously, NASA, which is gearing up for its own human landing on Mars by 2030s, committed to providing technical support — not of financial nature — for his 2018 plan.

Members of the U.S. Congress recently indicated that they are eyeing a lunar mission instead of an asteroid-then-Mars plan as NASA and President Barack Obama originally proposed.

Are Musk’s objectives and timeline too lofty, particularly when SpaceX has not yet landed Dragon using its own engine thrust — a key in landing in the thin atmosphere of Mars?

“This is going to be mind blowing,” he said, declining to disclose more details, as he would elaborate on their planned system at an upcoming conference this September.

Photo: SpaceX | Flickr

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