Of all the outlandish ideas to pop into Elon Musk’s head, his plans to colonize Mars and beyond may stand as his most outrageous. For those who aren’t familiar with this, Elon Musk has plans to colonize other parts of the solar system, which includes Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

The plan is to make humans a multiplanetary species in case civilization collapses, and includes launching flights to Mars as early as 2023. Talk about forward thinking! While the idea is certainly ambitious, just how plausible is Musk’s plans to expand outward into space? Professor of Physics and Deputy Director at the Mullard Science Laboratory, UCL, Andrew Coates, has some theories.

The first thing that Professor Coates mentions is to not dismiss Elon Musk as some crackpot, pointing to his enormous success already with his SpaceX program. Musk’s ideas include a few points that were singles out by Coates:

  • Cheaper access to space, something Musk has had started doing with SpaceX

  • Creating fuel on Mars and stations beyond. Experimentation has already begun on this, with NASA’s MOXIE experiment investigating whether or not oxygen can be produced from atmospheric CO2 on Mars. In addition, Musk also wants to create methane.
  • Launching a “staging area” of sorts to orbit the Earth. Each ship would-would remain in orbit while being refueled by boosters launched from the ground while waiting to head to Mars. Each ship will be designed to take 100 people, with a plan to launch 1,000 such ships in the span of 40 to 100 years (approximately 1 million people).

  • Interplanetary fueling depots on Enceladus, Europa, and possibly even Titan. Fuel would be produced and stored at these depots, allowing deeper space travel.


  • Sounds all very Star Trek, doesn’t it? Professor Coates isn’t so quick to dismiss these ideas but is also quick to point out certain obstacles that could prevent these from becoming a reality. The first is planetary protection rules, which aim to protect planets from human contamination in the event of life being discovered.

    Next is the problem of the temperature on Mars, which can range from 0 degree Celsius to -120 degrees Celsius at night. The amount of power required to heat equipment and colonies up to liveable levels would be staggering.

    Finally, Coates mentions that beyond Earth, we don’t actually know what the effect of radiation on these planets would be. There is currently almost no information on what radiation is like anywhere beyond Earth, and chances are it’s not a good outlook.

    I’ll admit, these ideas of Musks certainly sound outrageous, but there’s one thing I’ll never fault him for doing, and that’s aiming high. Most (if not all) of these ideas currently fall into the science fiction realm, but that’s just what they are at the moment: ideas. And an idea is a very powerful thing.

    SOURCE | Slate

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