Apropos our burning need for a way out to a new frontier: This is exactly the kind of thing we need to be working toward.

For the gist of why, the first “Interstellar” trailer articulated the answer in a beautifully profound two minutes:

For the logistical nuts and bolts of how, see Elon Musk’s milestone talk at the 2016 International Astronautical Congress last Tuesday:

According to the plan Musk outlined, SpaceX proposes to deliver an unmanned cargo shipment to Mars in 2018, more to follow in subsequent years, and a first wave of settlers — not a mere handful of astronauts, but a colonizing force of 100 — a mere eight years from now.

Tim Urban, whose detailed profile of Musk and SpaceX is a superbly great read, lays out the details of Musk’s Big F—-ing Rocket in his uniquely engaging, profoundly profane style at Wait But Why. (“G-rated” version now available.)

Some take-homes I jotted down from Musk’s talk:

  • Earth-Mars rendezvous is every ~26 months
  • With SpaceX’s transport, Musk estimates 3-5 months travel time
  • “Raptor” engine that will power the planned transport (to the tune of 42 of them):
    • scaled-up Falcon 9 booster, carbon fiber
    • 382 sec Isp in vacuum (361 @ sea level)
    • center cluster gimbals for steering capability; most on periphery will be fixed orientation
  • 7% of propellant needed for boostback & landing
  • up to 450T cargo to Mars
  • at least 100 passengers per ship, eventually up to 200 or 300

The key thing to emphasize is that this is not just some back-of-the-envelope daydreaming and a few artist sketches. Musk and SpaceX have concrete plans to build and do all of this, very soon now. Nothing in space endeavors is easy or guaranteed to stay on schedule, but with persistence it can be done, and thanks to Musk’s and SpaceX’s persistence and vision to date, we are now much closer than we have ever been to achieving the long dream of “humans as a multi-planetary species.”

We are still pioneers. We’ve barely begun.

Related content here: