We’re finally going to hear Elon Musk’s plans for a mission to Mars. You can watch along to find out what it is at 2:30pm EDT. In the meantime, here’s some of what we expect to hear—and what it means to finally put a person on Mars. [Update: And here’s some video concept art of the system at work.]
Musk will deliver an address this afternoon explaining the plan to the International Astronautical Congress titled “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species.” SpaceX describes the speech as a “technical presentation [which] will focus on potential architectures for sustaining humans on the Red Planet.” Beyond that, details are sketchy, although there are some things we expect to hear today.
Yesterday, Musk finally revealed the Raptor engine that will power his Martian flights in action. He also shared some specs for the engine. Today, we’ll almost definitely hear follow-up details and specs for the spaceship and rocket Musk intends to ferry people to the Red Planet. When we can expect to see them in the skies is also likely to be revealed.
Musk had previously sketched out a loose timeline for SpaceX’s trip to Mars. The private space company has said it wants to send a Red Dragon space capsule to Mars in 2018 aboard one of its Falcon Heavy rockets, which hasn’t actually yet had a test flight. That’s all a prelude, though, to Musk’s stated plan to send a person (or people?) there in 2025—at least five years sooner than NASA plans to even reach Mars.
After SpaceX’s big rocket explosion (complete with its satellite payload) just this month, however, the company is currently grounded, pending the full investigation of what caused the flame-up. SpaceX intends to be back in the air by this November, but the delay is going to push back some of the milestones—particularly the debut of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which we were originally probably going to see make its first test flight this year. That flight will be pushed back until next year.
Besides the hardware of how to get there, we can also expect Musk to tell us his plans for how SpaceX intends to keep a Martian crew alive once they hit the surface of the planet. Right now, that’s the part of the plan we know the least about. What kind of structure will the colonists live in? How will they be protected from the Martian elements? What will they eat up there? Before anyone steps foot into a capsule, we need to answer all these questions—and more.
Much of what we’ll see and hear today remains a mystery. Will Musk rip through his skin suit to reveal the alien lizard-person inside? (No.) Will he show off the scale model he’s been building in his basement of Martian city, New Elonsberg? (Perhaps.) Will he finally reveal SpaceX’s plan to colonize Mars—and, maybe, even beyond? (Probably!)
But, we’ll have to wait till 2:30pm EDT to see for sure. You can watch along with us right here.
Update 1:55 p.m. SpaceX has released a teaser video featuring concept art of the Interplanetary Transport System in action.
In the video, first, we see the rocket lift-off from Cape Canaveral’s Launchpad 39a with 28,730,000 pounds of thrust behind it. After stage separation, the spaceships parks in orbit while the booster returns to Earth—where it lands. A propellant tanker is loaded onto the booster to refuel the spaceship in orbit for its trip to Mars. The tanker returns to Earth and the spaceships heads for Mars. The solar arrays deploy and the ships coasts until it finally enter Mars’ orbit.
The ship lands on the Martian surface and then we get a glimpse of the astronauts looking out onto the Martian plains. Crucially, there’s no extra infrastructure in view. We’ll have to wait a little longer to learn how the astronauts can expect to live once they reach the Red Planet.
Update 2:11 p.m: And Musk has also added a few more details about the size of the Interplanetary Transport System. (Hint: Big.)