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.


AE 129

Creating a self-sustaining desert civilisation: Aridopolis

Inspiring talk about Mars – but what will the strategy be?

The National Geographic Channel has announced a new TV series dramatising the first manned flight to Mars in 2033.

If you want to live here…

If you want to live here…

The very first flight is supposed to lay the groundwork for a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet. In order to manage and operate that and subsequent flights, the film-makers have teamed up two fictional organisations: the International Mars Science Foundation and the commercial Mars Mission Corporation . The government–commercial partnership is a promising sign. But I am keen to see what their strategy will be. I hope they are not simply assuming that an Apollo-style dash for Mars will lead to anything but disappointment and cancellation?

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.