Elon Musk Reveals Plans for Martian City, Lunar Base, International Rocket Travel

Sep 29 2017 -- 10:00 AM

At this year's 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, unleashed another wave of both insane and insanely cool ideas that could revolutionize interplanetary transportation, as well as transportation right here on Earth. In what's become his classic cool-yet-so-excited-he's-nervous fashion, Musk took the stage in front of his fellow space peeps (including Bill Nye) and proposed a moon base, gave a glimpse of a what a city on Mars could look like, and outlined a plan for using a single giant rocket to take people between any two major cities on Earth in under an hour.

We're beginning to think Tony Stark has some catching up to do.

International Rocket Travel

First off, let's talk about the BFR, which is one hell of a BFD. Although BFR (yes, that stands for "Big F*cking Rocket") will not be the rocket's official name, that's its moniker for the time being, and it looks like it most definitely deserves it. The BFR will be roughly 350 feet tall, and will be able to deliver 150 tons of payload to LEO (Low Earth Orbit). For reference, SpaceX's Falcon 9, the rocket that's been doing all of that fancy propulsive landing on drone ships over the past couple of years, has a payload capacity of about 15 tons. (Musk also noted during the talk that "you can fit a whole stack of Falcon 1 rockets in the payload bay" of the BFR.)

Why would you need a massive rocket with such an enormous payload capacity you ask? Look to the above clip for a big part of the answer. Musk wants to use the BFR to ferry people from major city to major city anywhere on Earth in under an hour, most in under 30 minutes. For reference, right now, a nonstop flight from L.A. to Sydney is around 15 hours. The clip shows us how this would be accomplished using what looks to be a high-speed boat taking people out to sea, where they arrive at a drone ship and are loaded onto the BFR. The BFR then launches into LEO, relieves itself of its first reusable stage (the rocket that launched it into orbit), then lands the payload (passengers) onto another drone ship somewhere else on Earth.

Musk highlighted during his talk that one: He wants the BFR to replace the rest of the SpaceX vehicle lineup, including the upcoming Falcon Heavy, and two: A ticket to fly aboard the BFR will be affordable. And while that sounds insane — of course — Musk emphasized that realistic price points will be possible with full and rapid reusability. He again made an analogy to a 747, noting that by using it many many times, rather than just once, the cost per flight drops enormously.

Lunar Base

On top of the BFR, Musk also proposed "some sort of lunar base," which he has dubbed Moon Base Alpha, likely in honor of the TV series, Space: 1999. "It's 2017," Musk said, "we should have a lunar base, what the hell's going on?" Aside from that comment, there weren't too many details about the lunar base, but we're inclined to agree with the sentiment.

Moon Base Alpha

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Martian City

Then, of course, there was talk of Mars and becoming a multi-planet species. Musk kicked off the talk noting that the reason for all of this — the BFR, the lunar base, the city on Mars — is to help push humanity towards living on multiple planets, as that would make for a far more exciting future than simply remaining here on Earth. (Again, we're very much inclined to agree.) Here, Musk basically reiterated the plan he laid out at last year's International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, noting that the BFR will be launched from Earth, refueled in orbit, and then sent to the Red Planet.

In terms of plans for Mars, Musk wants to launch two cargo ships in 2022, and simultaneously "confirm water resources" and establish "power, mining, and life support infrastructure for future flights." If that again sounds completely nuts, Musk noted that it's an "aspirational" goal, but that the system for such a mission is already being built. Then in 2024, the idea is to send two more cargo ships, as well as two crewed ships to find a source of water. Yes, you're reading that right: crewed mission to Mars in seven years to establish a reliable source of water. Multi-planetary species indeed.

Mars City Opposite of Earth. Dawn and dusk sky are blue on Mars and day sky is red.

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

And as the pièce de résistance of the talk — aside from the BFR taking people from city to city on Earth— were mock-up pictures of a base on Mars that will eventually grow out to become a decently sized city. A dream to be sure, but one that makes the future seem a lot more exciting. And also insane.

What do you think about Musk's plans for a BFR, lunar base, and Martian city? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

Images: YouTube / SpaceX 

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