It's no secret that I like science fiction. It accounts for almost all of the books and movies that I enjoy, and whenever something new comes out in that genre I'm likely to be interested in it. I can't put my finger fully on why that is, or what it is about science fiction that draws me in and holds me. Some combination of the sense of wonder, the technology, the ideas about what the future might look like, all make up this interesting topic that I so enjoy exploring time and time again.
And I grew up in an atmosphere that encouraged me to enjoy science fiction. My parents exposed me to The Last Starfighter which I loved, only to later find out that they were holding out on us and showed us Star Wars. We watched Star Trek as a family, we had a telescope to look at the moon and stars, I read Ender's Game and the Star Wars X-Wing books that I had the local library specifically buy for me. It would have been hard not to like this stuff.
So you can imagine my excitement yesterday when SpaceX announced their interplanetary transport system that could feasibly transport people to Mars. It's all part of a plan that Elon Musk has concocted to terraform mars, to make it livable for humans, and to set up a sustainable colony there. We live in a science fiction novel.
If we've learned anything from James Bond films, we know that it only takes one super-villain to push the boundaries of science and technology to new frontiers (now if we could only find Elon Musk's secret lair in the Alps). In all seriousness, I admire Musk's attitude toward this stuff. During the presentation he laid out his philosophy of not really wanting to accumulate personal assets, except for the purpose of making the biggest contribution possible to this endeavor. I think that is awesome and a far cry from many others in his class.
It was actually a super interesting presentation about what it would take to reduce the (currently infinite) cost to get to Mars, including what types of fuel to use and how to get reuse out of the vehicles. They are looking to bridge the gap in the Venn diagram of people who want to go to Mars and the people who can afford to go, by bringing the cost of a trip down to the average price of buying a house in the United States.
The other thing that I like about Elon Musk is that he is a geek at heart. He names the barges they use for booster landings after ships from Ian M. Banks novels. The first ship that they send to Mars they want to name Heart of Gold, and it's powered by the infinite improbability drive. Battlestar Galactica was mentioned during the presentation, in that the Mars "fleet" would leave en mass to Mars, hundreds at a time.
The timeline is aggressive, and I'm sure they know that. As someone who works in government contracting, even though dates slip all the time, the projects that are most important to the company are usually the ones that are being pushed aggressively. They are also planning on sending things to Mars during every rendezvous point from here on out, using the launch vehicles that they already have. So we're going to see a lot more stuff sent up there in the next few years. That, in and of itself, is exciting.
All of that said, there are some huge gaps in this plan. The dangers of the trip weren't really addressed, nor was the harsh Martian environment. There are still massive hurdles to overcome. I don't think it's meant to be the comprehensive plan that some were wanting. It gets the conversation started, and that's probably the best thing that could happen at this point. You have to start somewhere, so why not here?
I included the simulation video that they showed during the presentation to illustrate the different stages of the trip to Mars. Check it out below.