AE 131

Elon Musk and Mars: Looking for a Snowball Effect

At the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico on 27 September 2016, Elon Musk revealed his plans for colonising Mars.


What is he really trying to achieve?

My first reaction was to start picking on some of the crucial aspects of going to Mars which Musk had omitted to mention. They’re obvious enough:

  • Human adaptation to low gravity;
  • The lack of a sustainable life support system independent of Earth;
  • The problem of getting costs down at the same time as getting reliability up.

But then I listened to his talk again, and I realised I’d misunderstood what he was trying to achieve.

The huge Mars launch rocket and spacecraft which he described in some detail are mind-bogglingly seductive, but they’re really a bit of a side-track. Recall some of the key points Musk made in his talk.

What Elon Musk is doing here is not to try to go it alone to Mars, or to solve all the problems himself. He’s absolutely not trying to compete with NASA. Clearly his plans conflict with NASA’s existing “Journey to Mars”, but that programme is actually pretty vague, NASA’s not a monolithic entity, and I think it must be assumed that he has support from within NASA, only not from those parts of NASA most directly interested in the Orion-SLS programme.

What he’s trying to do is to start a snowball effect to which a variety of entities from both the private sector and the government, and in a variety of countries around the world, can all contribute. He’s trying to build a coalition.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.


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