At the ISSR&D Conference in Washington DC, SpaceX founder Elon Musk admitted that SpaceX would need to rethink its plans to get to Mars.
He said that the company would not move forward with development on the Dragon capsule's landing systems, citing that new technology would provide a better approach to reaching Mars.
"There was a time that I thought the Dragon approach to landing Mars, where you've got a base heat shield and side-mounted thrusters, would be the right way to land on Mars," said SpaceX's CEO. "Now I'm pretty confident that is not the right way. There's a far better approach. That's what the next generation of SpaceX rockets and spacecraft is going to do."
Musk did not provide any details regarding what this "far better approach" might be, but he did tweet that his next model would involve a larger ship.
Plan is to do powered landings on Mars for sure, but with a vastly bigger ship
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 19, 2017
While he did not mention it during his question regarding the Dragon spacecraft, it is possible that Musk is being forced to rethink his plans regarding a human settlement on Mars. Recent samples have shown that, thanks to high levels of radiation, the Martian soil is toxic. That doesn't necessarily make human settlement impossible. It does make things a lot more difficult, and it was never an easy venture.
Of course, that doesn't mean Musk is willing to give up his dreams of seeing humanity expand to the stars, but before Mars, he may set his sights a bit closer to home, namely the moon. During the conference, Musk suggested the establishment of a lunar colony as a way of getting people excited about space travel once again.
"Having some permanent presence on another heavenly body," he said. "That's the continuance of the dream of Apollo."
While perhaps not as impressive as colonizing an entirely new planet, a lunar colony does hold several advantages to Mars. For starters, it is much closer, which means we can get supplies to it a lot faster. On the topic of supplies, there is ice on the moon, so it could be used as a source of water or even hydrogen fuel. Secondly, the ground isn't toxic, so while we'd have to work around the lack of oxygen, at least we know the ground won't kill anyone.