So it’s finally about to happen? That’s the question really on everyone’s lips after the monumental announcement a few weeks ago by Elon Musk of Space X that he intends not only to fly a crewed vehicle to Mars by the mid 2020’s but to start a full scale colonisation program.
The reaction online was understandably very mixed. From “it’s impossible” to “it’s crazy” to “it’s visionary”. I guess from our perspective, the interesting thing is threefold.
The first is that Musk has a proven track record in spaceflight. With a trajectory not too dissimilar to NASA in their early days, he has launched, blown up and relaunched a series of rockets, doing the “Thunderbird 1” trick of landing a first stage vertically after placing a payload in to orbit (and on a floating barge no less). So we’re not talking about some “gameshow style scam artist” here, but someone who knows how to engineer, design and build things.
The second is that he has some financial clout. Whilst not dripping with money, SpaceX are viable (other projects maybe less so, but the space side is good), and have contractual support from NASA and the like to continue to be so.
The third is that the engineering side looks, from initial study on paper, to be ambitious, yes, but potentially viable. We suspect that the scale of the project is beyond what he is capable of delivering, but the rocket design and concepts, seem to point to a credible plan, though, we suspect on a much smaller scale than planned.
Whilst Jeff Bezos and Blue Origina are making strides with their sub orbital launch and descent project, with a spectacular launch abort test only last week, taking what many consider to be a more modest, yet considered approach, Musk is really adopting the “Apollo” mentality, of “okay, this sounds impossible, so how can we achieve this in the timescales we’re proposing?”
Meanwhile, SLS trundles along, with the 2018 launch date looking at best a “just possible”, and then with significant funding shortfalls, something by the mid 2020s to get us back to where we were in Christmas 1968 with Apollo 8.
The Chinese too, are making strides with space stations, and threats again to “go to the Moon”
If all of these groups, (and add in ESA and Roscosmos to that mix) would pool their ideas, funding and resources together, surely something viable could be achieved. Competition yes, created the space race, but haven’t we grown out of this yet? The Cold War is long over, and Europe/USA import vast quantities of Chinese goods.
Isn’t it time we acted like a planet, not a set of discreet nations when it comes to space travel and exploration?
The one good thing to come from the ISS is it has shown we can collaborate in space. We can have Russian, Japanese, American and European men and women in orbit at the same time. It’s probably the only legacy the ISS will leave us, but, it’s one we should look to and say
“Hey… we did it here, now how can we take it out there… where real exploration begins?”