The Exuberant Ambitions of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Mars Mission Plans are on Hold
SpaceX president, Gwynne Shotwell, has confirmed in a statement the delay of the planned Mars Red Dragon mission plans. Due to launch 2018, other project delays predict to push it to 2020.
Both the Crew program and the Falcon Heavy program are running up to 4 years behind schedule. Key resources are still lacking. The 2 Falcon 9 core boosters are only within the first stage of development, for example.
Musk’s unshakeable optimism has him planning to colonize Mars
This is despite him not being able to provide clues on how humans would survive there. CEO of the Planetary Society, Bill Nye, describes the conditions on Mars to be drastically worse than Antarctica. And of course, it is impossible to breathe there.
So why does SpaceX wish go send a crew to Mars? Musk claims that humans need to become interplanetary in the case of a global extinction event. Why he doesn’t wish to instead work on preventing an extinction event instead, he has never answered.
But before that, there is much else that is supposedly achievable through these planned Mars missions. That is, as soon as SpaceX can actually successfully get there. Missions to Mars are frequently fraught with many difficulties.
Just in October last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) failed in such a mission
Their ExoMars spacecraft, a Schiaparelli lander, smashed into the surface of Mars. Mars’s thin atmosphere creates an engineering nightmare when designing a craft’s ability to land on the surface.
However, SpaceX is as optimistic as always about overcoming this feat. SpaceX engineers are tweaking the supersonic re-propulsion within the Raptor engines to hopefully accommodate this.
SpaceX rockets are groundbreaking in their ability to re-land on both land and at sea. The Falcon 9 reusability adds to a profound cost-effectiveness in their missions.
Nonetheless, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report infuses realism into SpaceX ambitions.
The report confirms that both SpaceX and Boeing are drastically behind schedule
Also, meeting specific criteria has to happen before NASA permits astronauts to travel in crafts designed by these companies.
Each contractor needs to perform test missions to the International Space Station. They must satisfy the requirement of a mission without a crew, and then a mission with one. Only then will NASA certify the companies.
SpaceX is definitely focussed on making the first private mission to Mars. Musk has stated he wishes to launch the Dragon every 2 years. Even with the current setbacks, Musk predicts a crewed mission to Mars in around 2026.
So what does SpaceX need to achieve before the first human astronaut sets foot on Mars?
Musk claims his spacecraft technology could get astronauts to Mars in 80 days. This is an outrageous contrast to the 6 months that it currently takes. He also claims that the fuel used for a relaunch would be available for the craft on Mars. So could people come back?
What does Musk anticipate the astronauts would use for food and shelter? How would they breathe? Would they be adequately protected from radiation and solar flares? Of course, the mental health issues of loneliness and boredom would need addressing. Until now the assumption is that a human mission to Mars means that they will never return to Earth.
And there is the fact that SpaceX has not even taken astronauts to the moon, let alone landed a craft there
NASA has never anticipated sending a human to Mars until at least 2035. Considering the vast experience NASA have had with space missions in the past, it makes Musk seem like he is just being fanciful.
But Musk has achieved more in rocket science than NASA. The ability to reuse the Falcon 9 on land and sea is a feat NASA has never managed.
For now, we must wait and see if the first portion of SpaceX plans gets off the ground. Inaugural and follow up test flights must occur throughout this year. After that more information should be available as to how realistic Musk’s Mars mission vision really is.