Elon Musk is an ambitious dreamer, but when it comes to colonizing Mars, he’s nearly certain he can get it done and recently outlined his plans in Guadalajara, Mexico. However, Musk knows that his presentation birthed more questions than he had answers and knowing this the SpaceX founder recently took to Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything” session for the space-curious.

Elon Musk
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

Elon Musk’s four-point plan to bring a million people to Mars

Elon Musk, for as long as he lives, will always have an army of doubters, skeptics, and critics. While many view him as a crackpot, a dreamer or just genuinely working outside of reality, these same critics will never call the man lazy. Just as early science fiction writers were nearly accused of heresy, Musk is oft criticized for plans deemed impossible. Whether a private space company (SpaceX), a luxurious all-electric vehicle (Tesla) or his vision for a hyperloop among other plans, Musk makes things happen in the face of adversity. Many went on record when he presented his hyperloop white paper and said it’s impossible, yet, two companies have run with the idea, and we should have a hyperloop somewhere operating within the next five or six years.

Musk has famously said for years, that he wants to colonize Mars and while that might sound crazy, the man does have a plan. Never mind the plan’s feasibility, that would be to easy to deem what he speaks of impossible. Impossible or not, I’m prepared to outline his plan and let the scientific community refute it elsewhere.

Musk believes that he can put roughly a million people on the Red Planet and the price of admission should cost less that a quarter million dollars. In the closing days of September, Musk elaborated on his plans to build an Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) in front of the Astronomical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Perhaps knowing that his plan begged questions, Musk logged into Reddit on Sunday asking Reddit users and his followers to “Ask Me Anything” and what we know so far is that he has a lot of work to do but…he has a plan.

It all starts with scouting missions and a factory

Musk and SpaceX announced in April that it would modify one of its Dragon spacecraft deem it “Red Dragon” and send it to Mars in 2018. He reiterated this in Mexico saying, “We want to establish a steady cadence — that there’s always a flight leaving, like a train leaving the station. With every Mars rendezvous [when the red planet and Earth are closest] we will be sending a Dragon … [and] at least two or three tons of useful payload to the surface of Mars.”

Thanks to Musk taking to Reddit, we now know that these payloads will include robots equipped to search for water as well as equipment to try to test his ideas for the Sabatier reaction which will use carbon from Mars’ air along with hydrogen from its water ice and use solar power to, voila, turn these ingredients into methane fuel necessary to return rockets back to Earth.

“Mars happens to work out well for that because it has a CO2 atmosphere, it’s got water ice in the soil, and with H2O and CO2 you can do CH4 methane and oxygen, O2,” Musk said in Mexico.

Okay, clearly there will be some gaps in his plans, but I only have 850 words here, so you’ll need to fill in the blanks on your own or head to Reddit and ask the man about his plan.

Once, SpaceX has figured how to land on Mars successfully; Elon Musk plans to launch the “Heart of Gold” spacecraft to the planet’s surface with the equipment required to build this methane factory. Without that factory, this is a one-way trip explained Musk.

“It’d be pretty absurd to try to build the city on Mars if your spaceship just kept staying on Mars not going back to Earth. You’d have this, like, a massive graveyard of ships; You want to build a propellant plant on Mars and send the ships back.”

Next up the manned mission

For all intents and purposes, the first crewed mission to Mars will likely not be coming back. I guess it’s as possible as anything laid out by Musk in Mexico and on Reddit, but I can’t see it.

But for our purposes, lets have a look at what would be necessary for these first arrivals to return. As stated above, they will need to build a factory to produce combustible methane for a return flight using the equipment already on the surface. But before that construction could begin, those arriving will need to build themselves a home where they can breath, shelter, grow food, drink water and a whole lot more.

This habitat, according to Musk on Reddit, will by called “Mars Base Alpha.” Once this “colony” has been completed, it’s off to work in the factory. Doubts, and practical technological limitations aside, this is how Musk is attacking the colonization of Mars.

“If you have all of those four elements, you can go anywhere in the solar system by planet-hopping or by moon-hopping,” Musk said in Guadalajara last month.

“The first journey to Mars is going to be very dangerous,” Musk said and has often repeated. “The risk of fatality will be high. There’s just no way around it.”

Once again, Elon Musk is nothing if not ambitious.