Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of private space flight company SpaceX, has announced aggressive plans to put humans on Mars — plans that outpace those of even those of NASA.
At the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico on 27 September 2016, Musk revealed that he hopes to help establish a thriving human colony on Earth's closest and most potentially hospitable neighbor within a century.
In a statement, NASA said they support the project:
NASA applauds all those who want to take the next giant leap – and advance the journey to Mars. We are very pleased that the global community is working to meet the challenges of a sustainable human presence on Mars. This journey will require the best and the brightest minds from government and industry, and the fact that Mars is a major topic of discussion is very encouraging.
At NASA, we’ve worked hard over the past several years to develop a sustainable Mars exploration plan, and to build a coalition of international and private sector partners to support this vision. And we’ve made extraordinary progress implementing this plan, working with a number of international and private sector partners.
At the conference, Musk revealed a promotional video showing a sleek, 400-foot tall rocket (part of the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System, or ITS) launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, piercing Earth's atmosphere, then entering a "parking orbit" as the booster returned to the launchpad. A propellant tanker is then loaded onto the booster and it relaunches to make the journey to Mars:
NASA is already partnering with SpaceX aboard the International Space Station. The company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft have been flying supply missions to astronauts stationed there. But while NASA has its own goals for Mars missions (for which it has been preparing by sending rovers to the planet) SpaceX is hoping to put humans to the Red Planet by the year 2022 — more than a decade before NASA had projected to have humans on board a vessel that enters "low-Mars orbit" in the 2030s.
During the conference, Musk laid out his basic principle, saying humanity can choose between two paths to the future:
One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event. The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.
The first ship, which Musk said would carry 100 people, would be named Heart of Gold, as a tribute to the novel Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The fictional starship, invented by author Douglas Adams, was powered by the "infinite improbability drive."