GUADALAJARA (Mexico) • Billionaire Elon Musk, who founded Space Exploration Technologies in 2002 with the goal of sending humans to other planets, has unveiled ambitious plans to establish a Mars colony by sending 100 humans at a time on massive spacecraft, with tickets possibly costing as low as US$100,000 (S$136,000) per person.
Making a highly anticipated presentation at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, Mr Musk laid out a vision of travel to Mars that was heavy on both technology - the how of getting there - and the dangers that await those first explorers just a decade from now. "The first journey will be very dangerous, and the risk of fatality will be very high," he said in response to a question. "Are you prepared to die? Then you are a candidate for going."
Mr Musk later told reporters he was "optimistic" that the first human mission could leave Earth in 2024 and arrive on the Red Planet the following year.
For Mars, Mr Musk envisions an enormous booster rocket with 42 new Raptor engines blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and launching a spacecraft holding roughly 100 people towards Mars.
The design of the Mars rocket shows that it is a towering 122m tall, far more powerful than the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.
The spacecraft - which may be called Heart Of Gold, in a nod to the science-fiction book, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - will be refuelled in orbit before heading to the Red Planet.
The trip could take 80 to 130 days, depending on the positions of Earth and Mars at the time. And it is not just one spacecraft: Mr Musk envisions several ships, each with about 100 passengers, making the voyage until there is ultimately a Martian city of one million people.
He talked lightly about how the journey has "got to feel fun and exciting", and "it can't feel cramped". He said there would be games passengers could play in zero gravity and a restaurant on board as it sped at 100,799kmh to Mars.
Once on Mars, humans would have to install a plant to produce propellant by using the planet's methane resources to fuel the spacecraft for its return to Earth. Mr Musk stood before a large orb of Mars that over time morphed into a habitable planet with oceans and greenery.
The South Africa-born Canadian- American entrepreneur said the plan would require a "huge public-private partnership", but he did not announce any alliance with a government agency.
The first flight would be expensive, but the aim is "making this affordable to almost anyone who wants to go", by dropping the price of a ticket from US$200,000 to US$100,000 over time, Mr Musk said. "You can't create a self- sustaining civilisation on Mars if the ticket price is US$10 billion per person."
Mr Chris Carberry, chief executive of Explore Mars, a non-profit organisation promoting the goal of sending humans to the planet within two decades, said a mission of just three to six people would cost between US$80 billion and US$120 billion.
Mr Musk said he would "make the biggest contribution I can" of his own wealth, and at one point joked that the company might have to use online fund-raising platform Kickstarter to raise money. "As we show this dream is real... I think the support will snowball over time."
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST