Power Players

Elon Musk on planning for Mars: 'The city has to survive if the resupply ships stop coming from Earth'

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gives an update on the next-generation Starship spacecraft at the company's Texas launch facility on September 28, 2019 in Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas.
Loren Elliott | Getty Images News | Getty Images

It will take 1,000 spaceships and "a million tons" of vitamin C to make life on Mars sustainable, says SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Otherwise "you're going to die slowly and painfully."

That's because in order to live on Mars, "we need to have a self-sustaining city" there, Musk recently told Ars Technica

A city on Mars "has to survive if the resupply ships stop coming from Earth for any reason whatsoever," Musk told Ars Technica. "Doesn't matter why. If those resupply ships stop coming, does the city die out or not?"

And "in order to make something self-sustaining, you can't be missing anything. You must have all the ingredients. It can't be like, well this thing is self-sustaining except for this one little thing that we don't have. It can't be." 

Musk likened it to a long sea voyage: "That'd be like saying, 'Well ... we had everything except vitamin C.' OK, great. Now you're going to get scurvy and die—and painfully, by the way. It's going to suck. You're going to die slowly and painfully for lack of vitamin C. So we've got to make sure we've got the vitamin C there on Mars," he said.

"Then it's like, OK, rough order of magnitude, what kind of tonnage do you need to make it self-sustaining? It's probably not less than a million tons," he added. (The average adult needs between 75 and 90 milligrams of vitamin C each day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Assuming a 90 milligram dose, a million tons of vitamin C would be more than 10 trillion doses.)

Musk tweeted in January that the goal of his Starship transportation system to Mars will be to launch each of SpaceX's reusable Starship rockets about three times per day, on average, while carrying a 100-ton payload on each flight. with roughly 1,000 flights per year carrying more than 100 tons of cargo on each flight. At that rate, Musk theorizes, each Starship rocket would make roughly 1,000 flights per year, launching a total of 100,000 tons of cargo into orbit.

"So, every 10 ships yield 1 megaton per year to orbit," Musk also tweeted in January.

And 1,000 Starships could send "maybe around 100k people per Earth-Mars orbital sync," Musk added on Twitter, referring to the period, every 26 months, when Earth's and Mars' orbits are best aligned for an interplanetary journey. "That's the goal."

(Currently, Musk has SpaceX engineers working day and night building his Starship system, according to Ars Technica.)

Musk has thought about how other things would work on Mars too.

For instance, there will be "a lot of jobs" on Mars, he tweeted in January. 

And on the "Third Row Tesla" podcast, also in January, Musk said there will be a "direct democracy" on Mars so that the inhabitants will make decisions for themselves. Musk also believes there should be fewer and less complicated laws on Mars than there are on Earth.

As for the city itself, it will have "an outdoorsy, fun atmosphere," Musk told Popular Mechanics in February 2019. So "you'd probably want to have some faceted glass dome, with a park, so you can walk around without a [space] suit."

Food would be grown on solar-powered hydroponic farms, located either underground or in an enclosed structure, he said.

Musk plans to send a SpaceX rocket to Mars, with cargo only, by 2022, according to the SpaceX website. A second mission, which would take more cargo and crew, is targeted for 2024. Musk has also said he'll send a million people to Mars by 2050.

"I'll probably be long dead before Mars becomes self-sustaining," Musk told Ars Technica. "But I'd like to at least be around to see a bunch of ships land on Mars."

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