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LongTomH

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Member since: Wed Oct 13, 2004, 05:42 PM
Number of posts: 8,636

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Can Elon Musk and SpaceX put humans on Mars before NASA?

Space Exploration Technology's founder and CEO, Elon Musk dreams big; he's already established his own electric car company, solar power company and the most successful private launch company in the world. For years, his really big dream has been to put humans on Mars before NASA? NASA's current plans are for a manned mission by 2035; Musk says he can do it by 2026:

Elon Musk, speaking to CNBC about how the future of humankind is rather closely tied to our ability to get off this planet, is “hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years” — with SpaceX rockets and spacecraft, of course. This lines up with some of his previous comments about establishing a Mars colony in the 2020s. Meanwhile, NASA recently announced that it would try to put a human on Mars in 2035 — and only if it can secure the necessary funding and carry out a number of important milestone missions beforehand. Tantalizingly, Musk also spoke about SpaceX going public on the stock market — perhaps to raise the necessary funds to fly (and establish a colony?) on Mars.

Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, has long been an advocate of setting up a Mars colony. Way back in early 2012 he said he’d worked out a way of sending an “average person” on a round-trip to Mars for $500,000. His tune seems to be a little more muted now, but his new estimate of 10-12 years — before 2026 — is still fairly optimistic. To get there, SpaceX would probably use the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle (basically the Falcon 9 but with two huge booster rockets stuck onto it), and a variant of the recently announced manned Dragon spaceship. NASA’s Mars mission would use the Orion spacecraft (which is finally almost ready for testing), and the new Space Launch System (which isn’t expected to be ready for a few years yet).

SpaceX is already testing a reusable rocket to make space transport more economical, a must for large scale Mars colonization.

A privately-funded Mars mission is a big order; but, Musk will not have to deal with the 'cost-plus' pricing that makes everything NASA does more expensive:

......prices are expected to rise significantly in the next few years, according to defense department officials. Why? Musk says a lot of the answer is in the government’s traditional “cost-plus” contracting system, which ensures that manufacturers make a profit even if they exceed their advertised prices. “If you were sitting at an executive meeting at Boeing and Lockheed and you came up with some brilliant idea to reduce the cost of Atlas or Delta, you’d be fired,” he says. “Because you’ve got to go report to your shareholders why you made less money. So their incentive is to maximize the cost of a vehicle, right up to the threshold of cancellation.”

Note that bit about "the threshold of cancellation!" Anyone remember what happened to Bush I's Moon-Mars initiative? Projected costs kept going up, until the eyes of Congress glazed over, and the whole project was cancelled.
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