And a Star to Steer Her By

And a Star to Steer Her By

That is a quote from the poem “Sea Fever” written by John Masefield in 1902.  This poem was about Masefield’s great love and wonder for the sea.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

 

Today’s explorers feel the same way about space.  In a way their journeys through the sea of stars is strikingly similar to the long ocean voyages of old.  But as time marches on, as it usually does, new discoveries in science and technology make such dangerous journeys shorter and safer.  One todays visionaries is entrepreneur Elon Musk.  Musk has made leaps forward in the area of electric cars, green energy and space travel to name a few.  But it is his vision of travelling and colonizing Mars we will speak about today.

 

“I really think there are two fundamental paths:  One path is we stay on Earth forever, and some eventual extinction event wipes us out.  The alternative is, become a spacefaring and multi-planetary species.”

That was part of the speech Elon Musk gave at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara Mexico.  It is a nice thought.  But, in reality does Space X have the ability and the financing to get the job done?  Actually they have both.  By using existing technology as the framework, Space X has already developed a transportation system called ITS or Interplanetary Transport System.  The main booster is basically a scaled up version of the Falcon 9, currently in use by Space X.  It is powered by 42 Raptor engines.   These are are the next generation of the currently in use Merlin.

Space X just tested the Raptor prototype that performed above expectations.  The booster itself will stand some 245 feet tall, over 400 feet with crew cabin.  The Raptor engine has three times the thrust of the Merlin.  But, that is just the beginning.  The Mars space craft itself will lift off with very little fuel on board to allow for maximum thrust into orbit.  Then after the booster lands, which Space X already mastered, it is fitted with a large fuel tank and launched back into Earth orbit to dock with the Mars ship.  Once the Mars spacecraft is fully loaded and the two planets lined up, the real voyage begins.

In an article just published on May 17th, Space X has apparently accelerated their Mars time table.  They now plan to launch a robot mission to Mars in 2018 using their Falcon 9 booster and an unmanned Dragon capsule.  They hope it will make a soft landing.  If all goes well, Space X will then launch a manned crew sometime in 2020.  This beats NASA by almost 14 years.  Several said this early launch will be a one way mission.  Musk quickly replied that all his spacecrafts are made for a round trips.

But can his vision of a living and working colony on the Red Planet of over 10 thousand people by the 22nd century cross the line from Science Fiction to reality?  Well, he has certainly beat the odds before.  However, time will tell.

In our next installment of “To Boldly Go” I will discuss Mars One.  It is another organization who wants to claim a piece of the red planet.

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