Tag Archives: SpaceX

The Mars Plan

spacex-mars-interplanetary-transporter-launchTo say that I was excited about SpaceX’s mars plan announcements last month would be an understatement.  Their plan is ambitious and exciting and my first thought was: “where do I sign up?”

For those of you who haven’t heard at this point, they want to transport people, 100-200 at a time, to Mars to found a colony and they want to begin doing it in 2024.  SpaceX’s goal is to do this in eight years.  Eight years.  After they get the tech ironed out, they want to have a real colony, planning on a million residents.

To say this is a big effort would be a massive understatement.  Can they really do it in this period of time?  I have no idea. There’s so many regulatory and technological hurdles, that I wouldn’t be surprised if they run into delays.

But all the same, I’m hopeful.  Over the past twenty years, it seems all that governments have done with space is to say “we can’t.” I’m excited because SpaceX is trying.  It’s going to cost them ten billion dollars… but if they pull it off it will be incredible.

Still, that leaves me with some comments on their plan.  They’re going to use liquid oxygen and methane for their ITR.  It makes sense, they can probably produce both on Mars once they have a colony up and running.   I can’t help but feel nuclear propulsion, that is, using fission processes to heat water or gas and then ejecting it out a rocket nozzle,  would be a more viable alternative.  It’s far more fuel efficient and when you’re going to be reusing a rocket anyway, it seems like a better alternative.

Granted, that might limit the rocket’s use to space due to the general public’s terror of all things nuclear and radiation.  Still, build it on Earth, get it into space, and then use it as a space-taxi to service all your needs.  Maybe in a few years, huh, guys?

My other thoughts: assuming this does get off the ground, it’s going to be huge.  We’re not talking a visit and that’s it, we’re talking a million people living on another world.  Our technology now makes that a long voyage under the best of times.  This will be our generations’ Plymouth Rock (Hopefully not Roanoak).  This is the start of something new, something amazing… and we need to do our best to make sure it succeeds.

I tip my hat to Elon Musk… and I’m glad he continues to dream big, especially when so many other people are looking at the ground.  I’ll finish this with the first question I asked: Where do I sign up?

 

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Eagles and Jet Engines

The SpaceX Dragon docking with the ISS.  Photo courtesy of space.com
The SpaceX Dragon docking with the ISS. Photo courtesy of space.com

I distinctly remember when two NASA astronauts visited my elementary school. They showed off bits and pieces of space technology, talked about how bright a future we’d have (where all of us would be afforded the opportunity to go to space) and generally made a lot of kids really excited.

Like some other things, the space part has not come to pass. Indeed, the US really doesn’t have a space program right now. We don’t even have a launch platform for people. NASA has to rely upon Russia (you know, the former USSR, who has a 10% launch failure on their Proton rocket) for cargo and personnel transport to the International Space Station. It’s fallen to private entrepreneurs to lead the way, such as Branson’s Space Ship Two which looks to be narrowing in on the space tourism gig.

As a SF author, I’ve something of a confession to make. If I could get out there and do this stuff, I would. I’d drop writing in a heartbeat, and take living that life. I’m certain there’s a lot of others who both read and write SF who feel the same. Clearly, some nerds with a lot of money have decided to stop waiting on someone else to make it happen and do it themselves. Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo and Elon Musk’s Dragon are two of the better known examples.

So, the question I’m asking… why now? Why has NASA steadily stepped back and why as the federal government essentially stepped out of the space business? Oh, there’s lots of talk about drones and robots, and missions such as the Spirit and Opportunity are great, but what about people?

And why are the private companies (albeit sometimes with trivial subsidies or grants), the ones who are doing the heavy lifting? I think a big portion of it has to do with how drastic the consequences of failure have become in America, and more specifically American politics. Americans, as a whole, have become increasingly risk averse, especially at government levels. A politician who backs a financial (or life-ending) failure will see his career destroyed. A bureaucrat who does the same will have similar consequences. Corporations, such as Boeing or Lockheed Martin, are by necessity, risk adverse. They don’t want the market to change, they want things stable, they’re on top of the market, innovation could jeopardize all of their ongoing profits. There’s a saying that I’ve always liked: Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.

Entrepreneurs are different. They make their money through innovation, through start ups. They aren’t afraid to fail, and they know how to pick up the pieces afterwards and move on. We’re in a unique position in history right now where money, correctly applied, will allow a private sector individual to leverage a place in the space industry. These people run the risks of the eagles, they’ve put their money and, in some cases, their lives, on the line for their dreams. And that’s something I respect. I think companies such as Musk’s SpaceX and Branson’s Virgin Galactic are keeping space alive and hopefully soon they’ll be expanding the frontiers.

That’s the important part. Keeping us out there and then pushing for greater expansion is essential. Somewhere, right now, I’m certain someone is telling a bunch of kids that they’ll own space when they grow up… it’d be a shame if they were lying to them.