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Mars Space Science

SpaceX Aims To Put Man On Mars In 10-20 Years 271

Posted by samzenpus
from the mars-needs-astronauts dept.
An anonymous reader writes "SpaceX hopes to put an astronaut on Mars within 10 to 20 years. From the article: '"We'll probably put a first man in space in about three years," Elon Musk told the Wall Street Journal Saturday. "We're going all the way to Mars, I think... best case 10 years, worst case 15 to 20 years."'"
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SpaceX Aims To Put Man On Mars In 10-20 Years

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  • So was Obama right? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisebabo (638845) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:11AM (#35928038) Journal

    To put the emphasis on improving LEO access first (through better lower cost commercialized technologies) than trying to push the shuttle derived Ares program (that republicans have been trying to resurrect.)?

    If Space-X can meet its goal of $1,000/lb. to LEO (one TENTH) the cost of the space shuttle, I would think so!

    • Agreed. I was skeptical when they announced the plan to ditch Ares and go with commercial launch services, but SpaceX has been steadily chugging along in the meantime, racking up a pretty successful track record. The Falcon rocket has performed well (from what I can see, not being a rocket scientist myself), and I've read/heard that the Merlin engine is a simple, reliable design.

      I must say I'm still a bit skeptical about the 10~15 year target. For orbiting Mars, sure, but to actually land on Mars?

      Then again

      • by Kjella (173770)

        I must say I'm still a bit skeptical about the 10~15 year target. For orbiting Mars, sure, but to actually land on Mars?

        It will almost certainly take more than SpaceX to put men on Mars. For one SpaceX is a commercial company so someone has to pay - much like NASA is paying for ISS missions, I guess they could pay for a Mars mission. Secondly SpaceX is a rocket company, I doubt they'll develop all the other bits needed. I'm guessing this is to fire up everyone else, like "We're ready to do the rocketry... are you ready for the rest?"

        • Elon Musk's goal is to retire on Mars. Assume SpaceX becomes profitable (via NASA contracts, ESA contracts, as well as private contracts for Inmarsat, Iridium, and other satellite payload missions). Assume Tesla Motors becomes extremely profitable making next-gen drivetrains for electric vehicles (Toyota is already invested in them, as well as using their drivetrain in their soon-to-be-out EV Rav4).

          There is definitely enough money that could get pulled together to do a Mars mission. Even China is shocked at

        • > I'm guessing this is to fire up everyone else, like "We're ready to do the rocketry... are you ready for the rest?"

          I reckon you're right about that. And there are already some others working on various pieces of the puzzle, such as Bigelow's inflatable habitat pods, which seem a good fit for NASA's Nautilus-X design. Still, its such a huge undertaking... it's hard to imagine even a consortium of "Musk-like" rich boyz pulling it off in such a short time. In any case, it's damn nice to see space news sta

          • by Guspaz (556486) on Monday April 25, 2011 @09:59AM (#35929320)

            SpaceX isn't doing just the rocketry. With the Dragon capsule, they'll be able to mount manned launches entirely by themselves. It's not all that big a leap between putting a man into orbit for a few days, versus sending a man around the moon on a free-return trajectory, my understanding is that all you really need is to get a decent-sized rocket into orbit for a TLI burn, and with Falcon Heavy, they'll be able to do that. So clearly they're capable of going a bit beyond the basic rocketry themselves.

            Of course, Mars is a completely different ballgame, and I don't see SpaceX doing that by themselves. Not, at least, without massive funding from whoever wants to go there. They could probably do all the R&D in-house, but somebody else would have to pay for it.

            • Yes, the Dragon capsule is cool. I like their idea of combining the launch escape system with a landing system, to obviate the need for an ocean "splashdown" recovery. And they're on track to under-sell the Russians on a rocket ride to orbit within the next couple of years.

              That's what gives me pause... My gut reaction is to think this is too big of a job for one company, but Musk seems genuinely intent on this goal, and seems to be marking all the early steps toward that goal. (Heavy lift? Check. Man-rated?

              • That's what gives me pause... My gut reaction is to think this is too big of a job for one company, but Musk seems genuinely intent on this goal, and seems to be marking all the early steps toward that goal. (Heavy lift? Check. Man-rated? Check...) Even so, that's just a start. They're going to have to step up their current development trend by an order of magnitude, at least, in order to reach Mars, and that's a tall order for such a short timespan.

                Actually, just as a thought experiment, here's my guess at

      • I believe the tech is there. After all, we made the moon with laughable tech. Put slightly facetiously, we need to take a page out of 75 years of SF and get 16 cores of Intel goodness to help drive us there. The big deal with all those 1-shot earth side calcs for the moon is that they had no backup comps to do calcs on the fly.

        Funny though, that's like three positive space stories in a couple of weeks. I guess people were upset that we looked like we were sinking into squabbling down here.

        • Most importantly, we need to drive down launch costs (Falcon Heavy from SpaceX) and we need to start sending infrastructure ahead of us. I'd argue the timer doesn't start until we have a manned mission on the way to Mars, so we can take our time lobbing equipment there that can prep things for us.

          So, tech that needs to improve: Remote habitat development/maintenance automation, robotics (Google cars ftw?), and heavy lift capabilities.

          • by Teancum (67324)

            It is useful to note that SpaceX is hardly the only company working to reduce launch costs, and there are a number of other potential future competitors to SpaceX that are likely to bust the $1,000/kg to LEO down much further. Even for the Falcon 9-Heavy rocket, rocket fuel considerations are a very minor consideration.

            With the upcoming STS-134 Shuttle launch, I would venture to guess that the catering budget for the press corps covering the event (not to mention the VIPs) is going to be costing more than

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              With the upcoming STS-134 Shuttle launch, I would venture to guess that the catering budget for the press corps covering the event (not to mention the VIPs) is going to be costing more than the fuel costs to operate the Shuttle.

              I think you just found one of NASA's problems. Why in the hell would you spend that on feeding reporters?
              Let them feed themselves and spend that dough on something useful.

      • by six11 (579)

        I think it would be interesting to understand why SpaceX has been able to steadily chug along, and compare that with NASA's recent progress. It could be that SpaceX isn't bound to the political restrictions and other nonsense that prevent NASA from being the beacon of light. I have several friends-of-friends who work at SpaceX, and these are absolutely brilliant people. Presumably these same people could have worked at JPL or something, but since they actually want to put their fancy rocket science know-ho

    • Politically, I think it was more of an exchange of space science / engineering dollars disappearing to placate the entitlement spending crowd. Space is frequently a whipping boy "we need to take care of [X] down here on earth before we go to [the moon|Mars]".

      SpaceX had already launched before the 2008 elections, and the shuttle program has been a dead man walking for years. Granted, I prefer commercial space exploitation than government, but in Mr. Obama's case I think it was a happy coincidence of intere

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Maybe but Space X has not put a person into orbit yet or launched the Falcon 9 Heavy. And of course NASA was predicting a man a Mars, moon bases, and large manned spacestations by the 1990s back in the 1960s. Af could have done all of that as well if someone would have paid for it.

      • Yes, they have not put a person in orbit... yet. But they have launched, orbited, and successfully recovered their Dragon spacecraft which will be doing so in a few short months. It was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon 9 heavy is basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. The heat shield on the Dragon is already designed for Mars re-entry velocities, so they are fairly well on their way to getting a Mars capable craft put together. They have a contract with NASA for doing ISS supply u
  • Dear Elon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:11AM (#35928040)

    Thank you for having the vision, the money, and the balls to do these great things.

    Regards,
    Geeks everywhere.

    • by Abstrackt (609015)
      So far they're just talking a good game but I'll be the first in line to say what you said if/when they pull this off.
    • by ron_ivi (607351)

      > Thank you for having the vision, the money, and the balls to do these great things. ... Geeks everywhere.

      I thought Musk ended up getting in fights and/or lawsuits with many of the geeks he's worked with. (Eberhard of Tesla; Thiel and
      Levchin of Paypal)
      http://blogs.reuters.com/small-business/2009/06/22/tesla-founders-feud-a-cautionary-tale/ [reuters.com]

      And didn't he recently announce he was broke?
      http://www.autoblog.com/2010/05/30/teslas-elon-musk-says-hes-broke/ [autoblog.com]

      Hope he doesn't fly the geeks to Mars and then charge

      • He made quite a bit back when he was able to sell some of his shared in Tesla Motors. Cash poor, non-liquid asset wealthy.

  • by taiwanjohn (103839) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:16AM (#35928060)

    While I heartily support the effort, this isn't exactly news. Musk has said similar things in the past couple of years, but this time he happens to have said it to the Wall Street Journal.

  • by LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:21AM (#35928080) Homepage

    I'm so sick of all these various companies, and government space programmes telling us what they can do in 10 or 20 years. Apparently everyone and his dog will be on Mars by then, meanwhile nobody has actually walked even on the Moon in nearly 40 years. Don't get me wrong, I'd like very much for someone to do all these things they predict, but I wish they'd just shut up and do them instead of talking about all the great things they're going to do.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Really... At least nuclear fusion is only a decade away, like it's been for the past 50-60 years.

      Is this the new nuclear fusion?

      • by microbox (704317)
        It has been 50 years away for about 50 years. Still dismal, but no-where near as bad as you say. And progress is still being made, so one-day we may have fusion still.
      • by vlm (69642)

        Really... At least nuclear fusion is only a decade away, like it's been for the past 50-60 years.

        Is this the new nuclear fusion?

        Humorously, you are exactly correct, for reasons that you probably don't know. Both are well within our technological reach, both repeatedly have been determined to be possible given a decade of funded work, both have repeatedly had "political" declarations that we'll do it, both without any budgetary follow thru.

        For at least fifty years, if someone would slap down the stack of cash, in a decade you'd have a fusion plant or a moon colony.

        At least one problem is the technology has been improving faster than

        • Both are well within our technological reach, both repeatedly have been determined to be possible given a decade of funded work, both have repeatedly had "political" declarations that we'll do it, both without any budgetary follow thru.

          While you are basically right with your points, I really doubt that we will have any hot fusion in the near future. The current reactors are attempting to compress the plasma with magnetic fields. We try this since 30 or 40 years, and every physicist knows that using electric

      • We don't have the basic science for nuclear fusion, though. Mars is largely an engineering problem, not science.
        • We don't have the basic science for nuclear fusion, though

          Yes we do. Bang two protons together. The science is easy, the engineering is hard. We've been able to generate fusion for decades, it just takes a lot of energy. Making it energy-positive is 'just' an engineering problem.

        • We have had fusion bombs for quite some time. We have the basic Science. We don't have the detailed engineering for fusion as a energy source.
    • by damburger (981828)
      Musk doesn't have the money to go to Mars. He doesn't have the technology yet. However, he can make SpaceX popular with credulous nerves by making a "10 or 20 years" claim.
    • by LaissezFaire (582924) on Monday April 25, 2011 @07:48AM (#35928274) Journal
      SpaceX is building rockets, so they are doing things in line with going to Mars.

      Space programs take a quite a long time to develop. The average government satellite takes around 12-16 years from development to operation. They have to think 10-20 years out.

    • Well you see, if you want o go to Mars, you have to pay for going to Mars. One of the ways to pay for going to Mars is too talk a really good game and see if people pony up some cash. Talking a good game is not sufficient, but absent Bill Gates as a financial backer, it's necessary. (Realistically even Bill couldn't provide sole financial backing for this most likely)

      • Also, lots of us aren't going to be able to afford a ticket. I'm almost 30, and while I make six figures, I'm never going to have a million bucks to blow on a Mars ticket. When I have children though, I'll make sure to have a big enough life insurance policy so that when I die, they have the option of going if they so choose.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          I'm almost 30, and while I make six figures, I'm never going to have a million bucks to blow on a Mars ticket.

          WTF?
          Unless you make $100,001/year I don't get this.
          If you make $100k after tax, bank half of it and in twenty years you got your million. Lots of American families live off of less than $50k/year so a single 30 year old doing it should not be a huge problem.

          • I make ~$120K a year before tax. It's substantially less after tax. Also, I support my wife and my father (both who have major medical bills yearly for issues I'd rather not go into), and I support my brother as well financially. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams is not the life I'm living (I'm actually quite frugal, I just work hard to support the people I care about who need financial support).

            I also donate almost 10% of my yearly pay to charity (Kiva, OneWorldHealth, etc).

            Note I said I'd never have a mi

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      That's the wonderful thing about making predictions 10 or 20 years out: The predictor will never be called to account if the prediction fails to be accurate. Even better are those predictions about what will be possible in 50 years, because by the time the 50 years is done the person who made the prediction is either retired or dead.

      The simple fact is that Hari Seldon doesn't exist, and thus any prediction beyond the next year or so is more or less complete BS. (This rule also goes for federal budget projec

  • by dtmos (447842) *

    I've always said that I'd support putting someone on Mars -- if I could choose who it would be. (At the moment, I have several candidates in mind.)

    • I am still waiting for the announcement "We can get someone to Mars AND bring him BACK in X number of years". I mean we could put people on the Moon everyday by strapping them on one our fairly limited rockets shot off on the right trajectory. It might take a while to get there and the landing could be a little rough but by god they would eventually get there. Of course that would leave us with the big question of What Next? I still think trying to capture a good sized asteroid and placing it in orbit so we
  • In TFA, he doesn't mention a return trip. Is that intentional? A one way trip to mars makes a lot of sense.

  • I'm not going until they can get some women on Mars too.

  • Before any agency, public or private, starts making claims of getting to mars it would seem prudent to have demonstrated some baby steps toward that goal. SpaceX is one agency charged with replacing the Space Shuttle, and it seems years away from that. There are no detailed plans on the propulsion technology that would be used to get to mars, or even the moon. There are no plans for building various outposts that a mars vehicle could dock with to re-supply. I think mars is a stretch. Until we are avid
    • There are no detailed plans on the propulsion technology that would be used to get to mars

      While NERVA or something better would be nice for going to Mars, it's not really required. LOX and LH2 (or even LOX and kerosene) is more than sufficient for the job. Just requires getting enough of it into orbit.

    • Funny, not long ago that a certain president said it would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. And he succeeded.
      SpaceX does not have the technology to get to Mars yet. But as in the Apollo program, is a matter of time and will.
  • Who would have thought it. Mars could well be the thing that puts a positive influence on the world economy and world direction.

    The moon landing energised the world, it literally invented modern computing technology.

    Why can't a Mars landing?

    In order to get to Mars significant advances in material, energy, and food science are going to have to be achieved. All of which would have real world positive impacts.

  • I'm glad to hear it confirmed that SpaceX really does have ambitions beyond LEO. Still, I can't believe that they could afford to do this just because they want to. Somebody has to pay for it. Will the US Congress ever decide to fund space exploration to the necessary level and for long enough that they could pay SpaceX to do this? I am very skeptical. Is there someone else out there that would? Maybe a few other nations could but they would probably chose a company within their own countries. Not that
    • by vlm (69642)

      I'm glad to hear it confirmed that SpaceX really does have ambitions beyond LEO.

      Study your orbital mechanics. Launchers are not constant delta-v machines. They are constant energy machines. Aside from some peak acceleration limits, and some adjustments in the guidance package, a booster that puts X zillion Kg into LEO IS the same machine that puts X divided by some single digit-ish number all the way into Mars orbit.

      So they're planning a really freaking huge LEO booster. But we already knew that. And if you can boost 200 tons into LEO you can boost 30 tons all the way to Mars. Bu

    • by Moby Cock (771358)

      SpaceX is planning to make LEO launches profitable. That way companies wanted satellites launched will contact SpaceX, not NASA. Those profits are then spent on R&D for the Mars mission. But you're right, the Mars mission has little profit prospects from the outset (perhaps mineral mining in the future will be profitable, but I doubt it). NASA will need to fund the Mars mission for a large part.

      • Minor correction:

        That way companies wanted satellites launched will contact SpaceX, not ULA or Arianespace

        NASA is not a launch services provider. Realistically, ULA is pretty much a DoD provider, but SpaceX is competing for that business now as well. The main commercial target is the Ariane 5, and at this point SpaceX seems to have them beat on cost. Ariane has flown 50-some times, though, which is attractive in a launch vehicle.

    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      How much would you pay to be the first man on Mars?

  • There is no way they can even come close.

    This is just a way to get money from clueless investors, of which there are plenty. It is also free publicity.

    • Elon Musk = 1 (what with SpaceX being the first private company to orbit and return a space vehicle and all), You = 0

      My Tesla stock is doing *very* well. I look forward to buying a ton of SpaceX stock when it goes public.

  • get your ass to Mars

  • Space! SPACE! So much space, got to see it all. Space!

  • Elon Musk - fragrance for civilian astronauts.

  • Mars ain't the kind of place to raise you kids...

  • I'm announcing plans to bed every month of the 2010 Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar. Might take 10-20 years. However long it takes you to forget about my prediction.

  • by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Monday April 25, 2011 @01:19PM (#35932318)

    Elon is cutting the fat out of conventional rocket costs, and I applaud him for that, but that only takes the cost per kg down from it's weight in gold (for the Space Shuttle), to three times its weight in silver (for the Falcon 9). The actual energy cost of getting to orbit (8.7 kWh/kg) runs about $1/kg at typical retail electric rates. An efficient transportation system would run something like 4 times the bare energy cost, which works out to about the cost of UPS shipping or ground beef. So long as launch costs are measured in their weight in precious metals, rather than ordinary day to day items, space will be stupidly expensive and limited to a very few people. It should also be a hint you are doing it wrong if you are so far above what physics says the cost could be.

    I used to work for Boeing on launch vehicles, advanced propulsion, and the Space Station. Now that I'm retired I am writing up my ideas on a better way:
    http://lunar.tiriondesigns.co.cc/ [tiriondesigns.co.cc] It is a work in progress, but the key idea is that there is no magic bullet (or magic rocket) that can solve the cost problem by itself. You need to:

    * Leverage multiple good ideas to get cost savings that multiply together. Apply these ideas in several projects and systems that build on each other
    * Use less of or eliminate conventional rockets, because they are inefficient and expensive
    * Design for re-use and recycling in orbit to lower hardware and supply cost
    * Use materials and energy in space to cut down how much you need to bring from earth
    * Build infrastructure to make things cheaper over time instead of exactly as hard and expensive as the last time.

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