( LGOATM )
All photos and Illustrations CREDIT: SpaceX and/or NASA unless noted otherwise.
￼[[ Most Recent Update, Friday 03 February 2017 ]]
The illustration, above, is the view you might see from the observation deck of the Mars Colonial Transport ( MCT ) spaceship as it approaches Mars.
In the previous post, we dipped our toes lightly into the Musk Mars Plan (MMP). Now, it’s time to begin digging into the plan for details. What you will find here is based upon a presentation about the MMP by Mr. Musk himself that I found on YouTube plus a few of my own comments & observations.
Speaking of the spaceship approaching Mars, the illustration, below, shows a cut-away of the proposed Mars Colonial Transport (MCT) . . .
When the rocket has reached orbital altitude the booster portion of the rocket shown on the left side of the illustration, above, will separate from the spaceship . . .
. . .then the booster will do a “flip” . . .
. . . and return to Earth using propulsive landing so it can be refurbished and reused.
The illustration, below, shows the booster using propulsive landing technique back at the launch pad . . .
The Personnel carrying portion will do a “burn” to initiate the long (about six months) coasting voyage to Mars. The illustration, below, shows the MCT personnel carrier spacecraft with solar panels deployed, leaving Earth and the moon behind.
Everything presented, above, is a brief summary of how the Musk Mars Plan will get us to Mars. Yes, I have omitted many details, and we will get to them a bit later.
Why go anywhere ? The most compelling reason is: For the long term survival of the human race. In the presentation announcing his plan for the colonization of Mars Mr. Musk emphasized this point regarding why the human race needs to become a multi-planet species.
Paleontologists have identified several catastrophic events that almost wiped out every form of life on Earth; probably the best known is the impact of a very large comet or asteroid that impacted the Earth about 65 million years ago and is believed to be what wiped out the dinosaurs.
Be that as it may, Mr.Musk thinks we need to be a multi-planet specie to assure our long term survival, and I agree with him.
Why Mars ? Mostly because we have little choice in the matter.
Earth, Venus and Mars are the only planets in the habitable zone of our solar system and Venus is not habitable because it’s surface is hot enough to melt lead and it has a bone crushing atmospheric pressure, among other undesirable characteristics. While Mars is not an exact twin of Earth, it comes closer than any other planet or moon in the solar system. A comparison between Earth and Mars is summarized in the list below (figures are rounded to approximations) . . .
Diameter . . . . . . . . 12,756 km 6,792 km
7,926 mi 4,220 mi
Average Distance . . .150,000,000 km 229,000,000 km
from the sun 93,000,000 mi 142,000,000 mi
Temperature . . . . . . .- 88C to -124C -140C to -30C
Range – 126F to – 138F -285F to 88F
Atmospheric . . . . . . . . 78%N, 21% O 96% CO2, 2% Ar,
Composition 1% Other 2%N, 1% Other
Gravity . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 Pounds 38 Pounds on
on Earth Mars
Day Length . . . . . . . 24 Hrs 24 Hrs, 40 Min
Land Area . . . . . . . .148,900,000 144,800,000
square km square km
Population . . . . . . 7,000,000,000 zero
The environment on Mars is extremely hostile to humans, mainly because of the unbreathable atmosphere, harsh radiation, and cold temperature. These conditions require special equipment, much of which already exists – – we have been living on the International Space Station (ISS) for several years, doing research to allow us to live in the conditions we will find on Mars in addition to other research that will benefit mankind here on Earth.
The orbiters, landers, and rovers we have sent to Mars during the past several years have found evidence of vast amounts of water ice on Mars, buried beneath the surface. Water can be extracted from this ice to be used for drinking water and to produce rocket fuel that can be produced on Mars using techniques that have been used here on Earth, such as fuel for street lamps back in the 1800s.
The CH4/CO2 chemical formula shows that Methane (rocket fuel) can be produced using methods that were used to produce fuel for gas lights decades ago in the 1800’s.
The photo, above, shows the Machine that Robert Zubrin (shown in lower right-hand corner) and 3 other engineers put together in a few days to prove to management that producing rocket fuel (methane) was feasible on Mars because of the abundance of CO2 in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Reference: the documentary movie “The Mars Underground” which is available for free (at the time of this writing) on YouTube The photo shown here is a “screen shot” from that movie.
As an aside NOTE . . . If the Zubrin MARS DIRECT plan had been adopted and implemented back in the 1970’s we would already have a colony on Mars, but that did not happened.
Why not?? One might ask. The short answer is lack of leadership and inadequate support in Congress to fund such a program. Every time a new president is elected a new and different plan would be proposed, but never implemented, and that’s a story for another day.
Reference: The Mars Underground & Robert Zubrin’s “Mars Direct” plan, which was never implemented by NASA – – the NASA engineers loved the plan, but NASA executives did not. More importantly, Congress never funded the plan.
So, how is the Musk Mars Plan (MMP) going to be funded??
Short answer – – (my opinion) since the full implementation of the MMP will will require several decades, the funding to “kickstart” the plan will have to come from NASA and to a lesser extent from NASA’s “partner space agencies”, such as the European Space Agency (ESA) who have already provided support for Space Launch System (SLS) and the Internal Space Station (ISS).
Having said that, I should point out that Mr. Musk stated in his presentation of the plan for colonizing Mars that the main reason he is interested in making lots and lots of money with his various companies is so he can help fund the colonization of Mars. Of course Mr. Musk can not provide all the money, but he can serve as inspiration for others who have adequate resources to help with the project.
Remember, also, that the passage to Mars is not a freebie – the one million colonists who will be going to Mars must buy their tickets for about $200,000. Multiply that by 1,000,000,000 and you come up with a nice pile of money!
What does it cost to get to Mars right now ?? One might ask.
It is not possible to get to Mars right now – all the money in the world can not get you to Mars. Sadly, right now (February 2017) The U.S of A does not even have a way to get to the International Space Station (ISS) – we have to buy a ticket on a Russian soyuz rocket to get there, at over $70,000,000 per trip.
How far we have fallen since the crash of the Apollo landings on the moon !!
– sigh –
We could place astronauts on Mars right now within 3 to 5 years using existing technology – BUT – that would only be a stunt serving no real purpose other than to plant the flag and leave a few footprints on the surface of Mars. And – there is the problem of getting the astronauts back to Earth.
So much for that wild idea.
Be that as it may, let’s take a look at the probable cost of the Musk Mars Plan . . .
Based upon the Apollo program that put a dozen, count ’em, 12, people on the moon at the cost of about $100,000,000, the cost of putting a single person on the moon, and returning him or her to Earth would be, literally, astronomical.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the Musk Mars Plan (MMP) will lower that cost to about $200,000 per person for the million colonists called for in the plan. I suspect there are about a million people here on Earth right now who could, and would buy a ticket to Mars at about the cost of a medium priced house here in the USA – somewhere close to $200,000. This is about the cost of a ticket you can buy right now to take a brief ride ( a few minutes) into the lower boundary of space at the topmost edge of Earth’s atmosphere. To spend a few days on the International Space Station would probably be several million dollars, if such a ticket were available.
Source of this illustration: it is a “screen shot” from Elon Musk’s announcement of his plan for colonizing Mars.
This type of “learning curve” is typical for any mode of transportation, a car, a bicycle, an airplane or a pair of shoes – the price of the first one is very high and the price of the remainder falls steadily until it reaches a final “plateau”. In this case, the price of a ticket to Mars settles in at about $165,000.
Key Technical Elements of the Musk Mars Plan:
 Full Reusability
 Refueling in Orbit
 Propellant Production on Mars
 The Right Propellant
The 4 things listed above are essential in order to achieve less costly and / or more efficient methods / techniques for colonizing Mars, so let’s take a closer look at each . . .
The current method for launching spacecraft, either manned or unmanned, is to literally throw away the booster portion of the vehicle. Examples: The booster section on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is about $60,000,000 – that’s my estimate based on the cost of existing hardware, Reference: NASA’s budget figures. (Yes, NASA has a budget and you can find it on their website if you want to have a look.) That’s a very expensive piece of trash to simply be tossed into the ocean.
The fuel in the booster will cost about $200,000 – that’s only about 3.3% of the total cost; the remaining (hardware) part is simply tossed into the ocean.
A significant saving in cost can be had by using propulsive landing for Vertical Takeoff and Vertical Landing (VTVL) in order to recover and refurbish the booster for multiple launchings. It takes far less fuel to get from earth orbit to Mars than to escape Earth’s gravity well and get into orbit around the Earth. There is a relatively brief “burn” to toss the spaceship toward Mars, then it simply coasts the rest of the way (with a few course correcting short burns on the way).
This is a huge saving for each launch of the Mars Colonial Transport. There will be Thousands of launches during the years required to colonize Mars. This adds up to saving Trillions of dollars during the life of the colonization process.
How, exactly, is booster reusability accomplished?? Immediately following the detachment of the booster from the spacecraft, the booster portion turned about to be headed back to the launch facility.
This recovery technique has already been proved feasible with “live” missions with the Falcon 9 rockets taking cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The Falcon 9 booster has been successfully recovered, both on a barge at sea and at the launch pad. The same technique can be issued for the MCT boosters which are much larger that the Falcon 9 booster . . .
The illustration above shows the MCT Booster and it’s key specifications. Of course, these boosters have not yet been built, but the Falcon 9 boosters (which are much smaller versions of a multi-engine booster ) have been operational for some time and have demonstrated the capabilities of the concept of Vertical Take Off & Vertical Landing (VTVL}. A photo of a Falcon 9 booster landing on a barge at sea is shown below . . .
Yes, it looks (sort of) like a launch because a VTVL landing must use Propulsive Landing to slow the booster before touchdown.
An FYI: The Falcon 9 booster shown in the photo, above, has been refurbished and is now (February 2017) ready for it’s next mission delivering cargo to Earth orbit. The reuse of Falcon 9 boosters allows SpaceX to offer delivery of cargo to orbit at a substantially lower cost than any other company which is, of course, very good for SpaceX business.
What about the Space Craft that sits atop the booster and will carry 100 colonists, plus crew, is it, also, reusable?? Yes, of course it is, mainly for financial reasons, but the people carrying space ship will also serve as the return to Earth Vehicle, and will be serviced to make sure it is in good shape before being reused for another trip to Mars. Not only that, but if spacecraft remained on Mars after delivering colonists, Mars would soon be covered with used spaceships.
An artist’s illustration of the booster separating from the spacecraft is shown below . . .
When the booster body has cleared the spacecraft, the booster is maneuvered into a trajectory that takes it back to Earth for a Propulsive Landing.
The booster returns to the launch pad to be serviced to make it ready for another trip to orbit.
Meanwhile the spacecraft
Meanwhile, the spacecraft heads for Mars, deploys it’s solar panels, and leaves the Earth and the moon behind . . .
We (YOU & I) will take a look at the right (as in correct) fuel for use with the Musk Mars Plan (MMP) – among other things that must happen for successful colonization of Mars, such as . . .
 Refueling in orbit
 Propellant Production on Mars
. . . in the next entry into this website.