Elon Musk knows that getting to Mars won't be a walk in the park — but he says you'll at least be able to walk in a park after you get there.
That's the latest vision of potential life on Mars from the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, who has plans to transport humans to the distant planet by 2024. Musk, who has said there's even a good chance he'll eventually move to Mars himself, said in an interview with Popular Mechanics this week that a future Mars base could include parks to help create "an outdoorsy, fun atmosphere" on the arid planet.
Musk has said that his goal is for SpaceX to send its first unmanned rocket to Mars by 2022, and that rockets carrying both crew and cargo could potentially reach the planet just two years after that.
In fact, in a March 25th tweet, Musk writes that he believes SpaceX could have a fully "self-sustaining city" operating on Mars within roughly three decades.
In order for that to happen, Musk writes, SpaceX will have to meet its goal of putting humans on the Red Planet by 2024. The company will also have to make at least 10 trips to Mars over the next three decades, making the trips at times when the orbits of Earth and Mars are most closely aligned (which Musk refers to as "orbital synchronization").
While discussing the logistics of colonizing Mars, including building human-friendly living spaces, Musk told Popular Mechanics that food could be grown on solar-powered hydroponic farms located either underground or in an enclosed structure.
"Earth hydroponics will work fine," Musk says in the interview, referring to the process of growing plants in water instead of soil.
A future Mars colony could even create a taste of home by building enclosed glass domes with plant life inside, where humans could walk around without space-suits, much like a park on Earth.
"For having an outdoorsy, fun atmosphere, you'd probably want to have some faceted glass dome, with a park, so you can walk around without a suit," Musk says in the interview.
In fact, Musk adds, if future Mars colonies are able to successfully terraform the planet, which would involve re-engineering the planet's surface and climate to make it habitable for humans, then eventually, "you can walk around without a suit," Musk tells Popular Mechanics. "But for say, the next 100-plus years, you'll have to have a giant pressurized glass dome."
Musk's plans for the (still hypothetical) colonization of Mars are not without their naysayers. NASA, for instance, released a report last year that claimed there isn't enough carbon dioxide in Mars' atmosphere for terraforming to be successful. Musk, however, disagrees.
Last summer, Musk said in a tweet that there is "a massive amount" of carbon dioxide that's absorbed into Mars' soil, which could be harnessed to terraform the planet.
"Of course you can terraform Mars," Musk tells Popular Mechanics after the interviewer pointed out that scientists have disagreed with the billionaire on that point. "Why would they think you can't? You totally can."
In the interview, Musk also discusses the challenges of harnessing enough energy to power colonies on Mars — potentially using solar energy, or even building a nuclear power plant, he says. But for the most part, Musk and SpaceX are still focused on the monumental challenge of actually transporting both cargo and humans to Mars.
"Yeah, yeah, you need to get there," Musk says. "That's a big deal."
SpaceX might first look to build a base on the moon using the new Starship rocket the company is currently building. The plan is to eventually use the Starship rocket to transport people to Mars, Musk says, but he adds "we'll probably have a base on the moon before going to Mars."
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include Musk's March 25 tweet.
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