Landing on the Moon in 1969 was the culmination of a lot of human dreams. We’d been stargazing for millennia imagining what it would be like to meet the moon goddess and walk on her surface. The next natural jump for our dreams was to land on Mars. The rover missions showed us it was possible, but when will it finally happen?
Living on Mars is a complicated goal with an even more complicated timeline. We ask how soon it could happen to show a few of the problems stopping us. This is our best guess of when we’ll finally be down in the red dust, trying to figure out how to survive on what will hopefully become Earth-2.
Why we should go to Mars
In a seemingly infinite universe surely there are places that human beings would be interested in exploring from the edges of the milky way to the andromeda galaxy, the possibilities are infinite. So why all of the focus on Mars?
Well, Mars actually offers us a surprising number of research and commercial opportunities from finding evidence of life to human colonization.
Currently, companies like Space X, backed by Elon Musk, are already planning missions to send human beings to Mars. Elon Musk himself has said that he plans to send 1 million people to Mars by the year 2050 and would build Martian cities that offer “plenty of jobs’’ for its citizens. Space X is not alone with its ambition to send people to the red planet. China and the UAE had their rovers enter Martian orbit this week, with NASA’s Perseverance rover joining them next week. All of these national agencies have expressed interest in sending humans to Mars in the not too distant future.
Mars is the closest place in the universe that we can search for evidence of ancient or current life. The evidence suggests that it’s possible that Mars once had running water, the harbinger of life, and it may still have remnants of water beneath its surface. Discovering life elsewhere in the universe would answer one of humanity’s greatest mysteries…Are we alone?
SpaceX Speeds Up the Timeline with reusable rockets
Image source: Satellite Today
Musk’s SpaceX has largely taken over the Mars ambition from NASA, with its private funds providing freedom in terms of testing and mission objectives that have far accelerated the Mars exploration process. SpaceX’s Starship design employs a reusable booster capable of refilling in orbit. This advancement has seriously increased our chances of reaching the red planet.
Think about it. Space exploration requires more fuel per pound of weight, which requires more weight to carry. Striking the balance between fuel and weight was originally dealt with using disposable boosters — the fuel required to break the atmosphere would be used up, the tank discarded, and the ship sent off on its own. This has serious limitations for how far the ship can go.
SpaceX, however, envisions a more practical future. Their Starship will spend its fuel to break the atmosphere but then re-fuel in low earth orbit. This means that the entire ship can make the trip to Mars, land, and be reused.
Having reusable rockets is a complete game changer. On average, NASA spends around 450 million on space crafts that can only be used once. Spending half a billion dollars for a rocket that can only be used once just isn’t practical. With reusable rockets, we can bring more people to space at a more affordable price.
When can We Live on Mars?
Musk’s target for a Mars colony is 2050, including living quarters, businesses, eateries, and a transportation station. This follows from SpaceX’s target year for humans to land on the surface of Mars by 2026.
This timeline depends on the technical viability of the Starship, as well as the potential for government restrictions on the project moving forward. However, straight from the inventor’s mouth, the target for living on Mars seems to be around the middle of this century.
Image source: NBC News
Lessons learned from NASA’s History of Mars Exploration
First, we need to look at the existing timeline of our exploration of Mars to see how Elon Musk’s private space exploration enterprise, SpaceX, fits into it.
In 1964, Mariner 4 retrieved the first close photos of Mars. 5 years later, Mariner 6 and 7 did flybys that gave us some reconnaissance of the atmosphere. NASA’s Viking probes landed on Mars in 1975 and began experimenting on the surface, looking for life.
The Pathfinder Rover was the next advancement and didn’t land on Mars until 1996. Subsequent landers, rovers, and orbiters have collected scientific data on Mars, with the last being launched in 2016. These missions were scientific and exploratory but did not fit into a timeline for human settlement.
- We need rockets to get us there
- We need people to explore what it takes to building infrastructure
- Willingness of decision-makers and entrepreneurs to invest in the future
Written By Jarrell Chalmers and Chris Maraboli