Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose prior plan for stellar colonization involved sending people who are not Elon Musk to go die on Mars, thinks this noble endeavor will require a practice round of sending people to die on the Moon first.
“Before we get the public real fired up, I think we gotta have a base on the Moon,” Musk told attendees at the International Space Station Research Development Conference in Washington, DC on Wednesday, per CNBC. “That’d be pretty cool and then going beyond that, getting people to Mars.”
“Having some permanent presence on another heavenly body, a kind of Moon base, and then getting to Mars and beyond,” he added. “...That’s the continuance of the dream of Apollo that people are looking for.”
Musk probably won’t be sending any of his own people to the Moon, as his SpaceX is squarely focused on sending people to Mars. But constructing a long-term colony on the Moon would be doubtless provide many opportunities to perfect complicated technologies crucial to Musk’s effort, like construction, resource extraction, and long-term life support somewhere other than our own planet.
Since the Moon has low gravity and is just hanging out there some 384,400 kilometers away, any colony there would have the added advantage of being able to send its inhabitants home. That’s good, because figuring out all those technologies will doubtless put many astronauts at risk of fates including but not limited to vacuum exposure, depressurization, freezing, drowning, launch and landing failures, and construction accidents.
SpaceX does have some more limited lunar ambitions, like launching paying customers on a potentially deadly slingshot tour around the Moon by 2018.
While humans haven’t landed on the Moon since 1972, Moon talk has been back in vogue lately. Other prominent advocates of building a Moon base include Newt Gingrich, who promised to have a “the first permanent base on the Moon” by the end of his second term while running for president in 2012, President Donald Trump (maybe) and the European Space Agency, which wants to build a “Moon Village.” Sen. Ted Cruz, who does support human space exploration, seems kind of terrified of the Moon itself.