SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Speaking before the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara on Tuesday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk finally revealed his plans for a manned mission to Mars, the first phase of his grander vision for colonization. Musk hopes to transport a million people to the Red Planet. The initial strategy involves the development of massive rocket boosters, all reusable, capable of launching a fleet of 1,000 vessels. Each craft will carry 100 passengers. After thrusting the ships into a “parking orbit,” the boosters would hurtle back to Earth for refueling. The rockets would return several times, carrying the propellant needed to help the ships complete the long voyage. Musk’s vision is bold, inspiring, imaginative and firmly rooted in America’s pioneering spirit of discovery and taking over land they don’t currently control. However, that’s not to say the journey will be simple or easy. Musk will need to overcome some critical challenges before his dreams blast off.
Mike Fallopian, chief engineer and vice president of Yoyodyne’s Galatronics Division, one the nation’s most vibrant aerospace contractors and San Narciso County’s largest employer, says he shares Musk’s passion for adventure.
“In some ways, we’re seeing the evolution of manifest destiny,” Fallopian opined. “People like Elon Musk and the minds behind Yoyodyne -- well educated white males, that is -- we find ourselves in the tragic position of Alexander the Great. You recall the story; he peered out over the empires he’d plundered and wept, for there were no more lands to conquer. That’s where we’re at. We’ve used up this old place. Mars represents the new frontier. We have undiscovered indigenous tribes to displace, buffalo to slaughter and natural resources to drain.”
But Fallopian cautions that the undertaking will be fraught and filled with obstacles that SpaceX must overcome. He sees the following challenges lying ahead of Musk’s efforts.
The Death Trap of Exploding RocketsOn September 1, SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad, destroying the engines and the payload -- an Amos-6 communications satellite. This disaster marks the second loss of a Falcon 9 in the past 14 months. NASA officials, in response, shelved a tentative contract for manned flights to the International Space Station, which Musk handled stoically.
“It’s great that a private contractor has made such progress in the realm of space transit, but we need to be sure they’re not going to murder 20 some odd astronauts like our programs have,” a NASA spokesperson told reporters.
Despite the setback, Musk remains ambitious.
“I completely support SpaceX moving forward with its plans,” Fallopian said, “so long as their rockets don’t detonate on the pad and kill the hundreds of passengers looking forward to seeing Mars before God.”
FundingUnlike NASA, a government run agency, SpaceX is a privately held company. The organization has profited off the satellite launches and NASA resupply missions it’s launched -- those where the rockets didn’t explode and destroy everything -- but Musk estimates the production of his interplanetary transport system to run over $10 billion. He admitted that SpaceX has committed less than five percent of resources to the endeavor so far.
“It’s entirely possible for SpaceX to raise the money,” Fallopian said. “Elon is great at marketing himself, and the public responds to his messages of innovation and exploration. If he can stop his rockets from blowing up and potentially roasting thousands of human beings, investors will contribute the capital. After the recent predicament, they’re wary. Even if one vessel goes up in a fiery ball of molten metal, that’s 100 souls. The life insurance payouts, wrongful death suits, government fines, funeral costs and other penalties would cost more than the mission.”
Rocket SizeAs the Los Angeles Times points out, because SpaceX responded to their calls, “The rocket booster for the interplanetary transport system will measure about 39 feet in diameter and stand 254 feet tall… When stacked with the spaceship, the combined height will be about 400 feet.”
Forty-two Raptor engines will power the Mars rocket. The surprising number of engines, SpaceX explains, supports redundancy. So should a few engines fail, a significant volume of backups remains available to maintain operations.
“That’s a wise plan,” Fallopian noted, “but when you’re dealing with more engines, you’re facing more complexities in the process -- meaning that more SpaceX equipment attached to the ship creates an exponentially higher chance of fatal explosions. I honestly think the crew would have better odds risking an engine failure with a water landing than an ‘Oh, the humanity’ extinction level event. The more SpaceX machines you put on, the more peril you assume.”
Propellant Farms on MarsOne of the most fascinating aspects of Musk’s cost containment strategy comes from the implementation of propellant production on Mars. The concept involves harvesting methane and liquid oxygen from the planet’s atmosphere, then transforming the elements into rocket fuel.
Fallopian finds the idea intriguing, but difficult to realize. To date, Musk has not illustrated concrete steps toward constructing the systems he envisions.
“There’s the problem of supplying such a factory with a reliable water source,” Fallopian explained. “And who can know whether this Martian rocket fuel will be stable? With SpaceX rockets going kaboom all the time, untested propellants could become a match in a vat of gasoline. Literally, to some extent.”
Passenger Safety Concerns En Route to MarsMusk gave scant details about preserving the health and welfare of passengers jetting off to the Red Planet’s surface. As several aerospace experts assert, just being anywhere near a volatile SpaceX rocket puts lives in jeopardy.
“Keeping people safe? I’d say number one directive is no exploding rockets,” one NASA scientist said.
Apart from exploding rockets, radiation is a concern. People will be traversing highly radioactive environments on their voyage and at their destination. Musk mentioned magnetic shielding and a safe level of exposure to radiation in the spacecraft.
NRA members warn of greater threats. They cite the clashes and friction that can arise between people confined in close quarters over long intervals. Mandating that all passengers carry firearms, they claim, is the best way to prevent conflict.
Fallopian, although a staunch Second Amendment advocate, vehemently disagrees: “For the love of Christ, the last thing anyone needs is a gunshot triggering an apocalyptic chain of explosions in all those SpaceX rockets.”
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