This is Elon Musk's plan to colonize Mars


SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has finally revealed his grand plan for humans to colonize Mars. He held court at the International Astronautical Conference in Mexico earlier today, walking through his plans for the logistics of getting to the Red Planet.

But why go to Mars? “There are two fundamental paths: we stay on Earth forever and there will be a mass extinction event. Or we become a multi-planet species,” explained Musk.

Musk has long advocated for sending humans to Mars, and today’s conference showed that he’s getting serious about it now. On Sunday, SpaceX showed off its new Raptor engines that will be used on the company’s Mars Colonial Transporter. The Raptor engines will be “several times” more powerful than the Merlin engines currently used by SpaceX to transport satellites and spacecraft into orbit.

SpaceX still intends to send an unmanned capsule to Mars by 2018, with plans to send humans there by 2024.

How humans will get to Mars

Elon Musk on stage

Musk’s plans, as you can imagine, are extremely complex, but basically boil down to this:

A rocket using 42 Raptor engines will propel a spaceship, called the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), into orbit. The booster will then separate from the ITS, at which point it will land back on Earth to be reused. The spaceship, meanwhile, will remain in Earth’s orbit.

Using the same booster, a second fuel tanker will be launched to meet the orbiting ITS. After fueling up completely, the ITS will depart on its journey to Mars. With the aid of solar sails, the spaceship will arrive on Mars in 80 to 150 days, depending on the time of year. Musk hopes to eventually cut that transport time down to 30 days.

“This isn’t what it might look like – this is what we plan to make it look like,” said Musk of the plans.