Elon Musk is a man of great vision and ambition, and one of his most lofty goals is the establishment of a Mars colony, that is, a self-sustaining city on Mars.
This week saw a small, but important, step towards the realization of Musk’s dream of a Mars colony in the successful landing of a reusable SpaceX rocket.
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Billionaire Elon Musk is the founder and CEO of both EV-maker Tesla and rocket manufacturer SpaceX, which managed to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket without damage at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station following an orbital launch on Monday evening. This is a big deal as it means SpaceX is very close to developing rapidly reusable rockets — a technological stage that is critical to the colonization of Mars according to Musk.
Statement from Elon Musk
“It makes all the difference in the world — absolutely fundamental,” Musk explained excitedly in an interview after the successful Falcon 9 launch and landing. “And I think it [the rocket landing] really dramatically improves my confidence that a city on Mars is possible. You know, that’s what all this is about.”
Not one to shy away from a little strategic hype, a couple of weeks ago at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Musk gave a speech where he said a colony on Mars would result in numerous major scientific advances, would notably lower humanity’s odds of extinction, and would be a great “adventure story” to inspire and intrigue people around the world.
Reusable rockets are key to Mars colony and beyond for humanity
Musk has preached for some time that reusable-rocket technology is a key technological development that will give space exploration a huge boost by dramatically reducing costs.
“The Falcon 9 rocket costs about $16 million to build — it is kind of like a big jet — but the cost of the propellant . . . is only about $200,000,” he explained in the interview. “So that means that the potential cost reduction in the long term is probably in excess of a factor of a hundred.”
Of note, Space X ran extensive landing tests on a prototype rocket called Grasshopper back in 2012 and 2013, managing numerous soft landings at SpaceX’s test site in Texas after flights to an altitude of around 2500 feet.
The firm has also been testing reusable versions of the commercial-scale Falcon 9 rocket for the last couple of years, and has made several efforts to maneuver the first stage of the rocket back for landing attempts after orbital launches.
Musk’s company has had several successful “water landings” where the booster stage touched down softly into the ocean, and has come very close to landing the rocket down on an uncrewed ship. However, in both attempts, the Falcon 9 booster landed on the ship, but fell over on the deck and exploded.
The Falcon 9, however, made history on Monday with a picture-perfect landing after a mission delivering 11 satellites into orbit for client Orbcomm.
Of interest, Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space firm, successfully landed a rocket last month after a flight to suborbital space.