SpaceX founder Elon Musk has famously been quoted as saying that he wants to go to Mars and die there, but not on impact. Fittingly, Musk wrote the forward for a new book on Mars that focuses on NASA’s Curiosity mission. That book mentions the connection between PayPal—another company Musk founded—and Mars.

Mars mission

A visit to Mars?

So will humans one day travel to Mars? Of course right now there are many problems with that, but NASA scientists are studying those issues and looking for solutions. One of the tools they are using is the Curiosity rover. National Geographic reporter Simon Worrall interviewed Marc Kaufman, author of the book Mars Up Close.

He believes it’s very important that Earth send humans to Mars, and he thinks “the architecture” for it is there. However, he sees the bigger problems as being money and public support.

What does PayPal have to do with Mars?

The author was asked about Elon Musk, and he said Musk told him that one way he thinks he can be “a useful person in this world” is to use his millions of dollars to do three things. Of course one was the electric car, which is what Musk has done with Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA). The second thing on his list was creating SpaceX to give the private space industry a boost. And the third thing was dealing with global energy problems, which he is doing through SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY).

Musk has said he wants to travel to Mars “in the next few decades” and make it home. Thus far, many just think he’s nuts. However, what an achievement it would be for him to go from founding PayPal to setting foot on Mars.

Solving the problems with getting to Mars

Kaufman explained some of the issues with going to Mars and getting back. NASA said recently that it was successful in testing an “impossible engine,” which could be a key stepping stone to getting to Mars. He said scientists must find a way to get to Mars faster so that radiation sickness isn’t a problem. Currently it takes approximately nine months to get there from Earth.

He also said that currently it’s difficult to actually leave Mars. He said the planet’s atmosphere is pretty thin but that it’s harder to get off Mars than it is the moon because it has an atmosphere. The author said they would need a “fairly sophisticated and powerful rocket” to get off of Mars and that they don’t have that part figured out yet.

And then there’s the issue of money. It would cost governments hundreds of billions of dollars to put people on Mars. Kaufman noted that the money would be spread out over many missions and several decades. However, he also said that getting to Mars is something that “could define humankind.”

“The logic for it, as many see it in the space world, and I came to see it also, is that it’s a challenge that will define us,” Kaufman told Worrall. “And by us I mean both the United States and other nations. It’s clear that the U.S. itself can’t do this alone.”

He said the U.S. needs the European Union, Japan and India at the very least, noting that the relationship with Russia appears to have fallen apart because of the situation in Ukraine.