With a dazzling video shot in the best traditions of modern sci-fi blockbusters, billionaire and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has finally revealed his grand design for Mars colonisation.
To establish a self-sustaining city on the red planet, Musk hopes to settle one million people on Mars “in our lifetime”, as he announced in a polished presentation at the International Astronautical Congress held in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Tuesday.
"I want to make Mars seem possible, something we can do in our lifetimes… and that anyone can go if they wanted to,” he explained.
For those who can afford it, the ticket will cost approximately US$200,000 – a sum he believes will encourage people to migrate as “you can't create a self-sustaining civilisation if the ticket price is US$10 billion (AU$13 billion) per person”.
"The probable lifespan of human civilisation will be much greater if we are a multi-planetary species,” said Musk. “But the argument I find most compelling is it would be an incredible adventure. Life needs to be more than solving problems every day. You need to wake up and be inspired.”
To keep costs low, the space shuttle will need to be reusable, and refuelled both on Mars and while in Earth’s orbit.
Should things go according to plan, about 100 people will be able to make the interplanetary journey at a time. Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, estimates the trip will initially take 80 days to complete with passengers sharing a communal living space, but the entrepreneur hopes to get the travel time down to just 30 days in the future.
The distances between Earth and Mars vary depending on orbit, from around 400 million kilometres at the most, to an expected distance of just 58 million km in 2018; thus new flights are expected to launch every two years when the distance is at its lowest.
According to the proposed timeline, testing will begin on a prototype vessel in four years time with the first passengers launching in 2022. However, Musk fully expects that it will take around a century to establish a self-sustaining colony on Mars.
Meanwhile Musk’s SpaceX is still investigating why their Falcon 9 rocket exploded in Florida earlier this month; besides, they are not the only semi-privately funded company with their eyes on Mars.
Blue Origin, which is headed up by tech entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, announced a fortnight ago that they will start work on a new rocket which may move them closer to the red planet.