By Jason Paur
Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk says SpaceX is developing a plan for trips to Mars that will eventually cost just $500,000 per seat. Musk founded SpaceX 10 years ago and interplanetary travel has always been one of his goals for the company. Few details were provided about the Martian voyage, but Musk did say we can expect to hear more about the plan in less than a year.
The bargain basement price for a trip to Mars also highlights Musk’s main effort behind SpaceX, to bring down the cost of delivering a payload — human or cargo — into space. In an interview with the BBC, Musk acknowledged the first seats won’t be selling for $500,000. It will take a while to get down to that price. But Musk says the half-million dollar ticket could happen a decade after trips begin.
“Land on Mars, a round-trip ticket — half a million dollars. It can be done,” he told the BBC.
Musk did hint that one of the keys to low-cost trips to the red planet would be the ability to not only refuelthere, but also to reuse the entire spacecraft on the return trip. In the BBC interview Musk said by reusing the spacecraft, you end up with the same sorts of costs airlines face. Musk compared it to flying today where a 747 isn’t simply thrown away after a flight to London. Like the airplane, the cost of the spacecraft could be spread out over numerous flights rather than just a single trip making fuel one of the main expenses rather than the entire ship.
The $500,000 price tag is around one percent of the cost NASA is currently paying to send a person to the space station on a Russian Soyuz rocket. Though it should be mentioned that the $50 million trip with the Russians is a known quantity at this point and so far SpaceX has only had four successful rocket launches.
The talk of Martian travel came on the heels of SpaceX’s most recent development news of its Dragon capsule. As the California company prepares to send an unmanned Dragon to the International Space Station next month, it completed the first crew trial with NASA. The event gave NASA astronauts a chance to test out the 7-seat capsule that is being developed to carry human passengers as well as cargo.
The day-long test included evaluations of crew interaction with the capsule including visibility and the ability to reach key places inside the spacecraft. Unlike NASA’s original Mercury capsule which limited the height of the first astronauts to 5 feet 11 inches, the Dragon will be able to accommodate passengers all the way up to 6 feet 5 inches.