Domes to Droids: Elon Musk has revealed more of his vision for life on Mars

The ambition increases

In September Elon Musk stepped on stage at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, to outline his long-term plans for the SpaceX mission to Mars. Now, he’s taken to Reddit to answer questions with more detail on the topic in an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session. 

Freed from time limitations, Musk was able to delve into some of the most technical details of the mission from the properties of the Falcon 9 rocket to upcoming plans to test the Interplanetary Transport System’s (ITS) large fuel tank at sea. 

The tank, which was revealed during the September conference, is one of two planned refillable fuel tanks which will take a spaceship between Earth and Mars using liquid oxygen and methane. 

Testing, testing

A development version of the tank has already been built and Musk revealed during the AMA that there are plans to test its ability to handle pressure at sea, though already “early tests are promising.”

Musk didn’t just focus on the nitty gritty technical specifications, though. He also revealed some of his bigger picture views for the mission, including a rough timeline for the first few missions.

According to Musk, the first few missions to the planet will involve scouting and transportation of equipment. Only after these missions will any crewed flights take place, the first of which will only carry around a dozen people tasked with building a rudimentary base. After this SpaceX will aim to double the number of flights to Mars so that the city will be able to grow itself.

Life on Mars

In a later answer he states that we’ll largely rely on tunnel digging droids for industrial operations as they’ll take place underground while humans remain on the surface. 

What will humans be doing on the surface, you might wonder? Well, Musk envisions that we’ll be living in large glass “geodesic domes” constructed using carbon fiber frames that will act as green living spaces away from industrial activities and radiation. 

Musk admits that none of these plans are absolutely certain at the moment and there’s still much to be done in terms of mastering the necessary technology; he acknowledges himself in the AMA that he’s “not sure that we've really mastered anything yet. Maybe starting engines...”

In light of the testing and developing that has to be done, Musk says that it will be another one or two years before we see any live mockups for the habitation section of the ITS. Let’s hope they’re comfortable as well as functional, as it’ll be a long trip.