CNBC is reporting that SpaceX’s #Elon Musk may actually beat NASA to Mars, perhaps within the Trump presidency. While NASA’s #Journey To Mars program will not see astronaut boots on the Red Planet until sometime in the 2030s, Musk in contemplating launching a crew of his own as early as 2024, which would be in the last year of a hypothetical Trump second term. But, a number of problems exist that need solving before Musk can accomplish his dream of sending people to Mars.

What is Elon Musk’s master plan for going to Mars?

Musk intends to land one, possibly two, uncrewed Red Dragon spacecraft on Mars by 2020. Another Red Dragon would follow in 2022.

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The Red Dragons would by launched by Falcon Heavy, the massive rocket SpaceX has been developing since 2011 and is due to be tested later in 2017.

The architecture of the crewed flight that could take place in 2024 is, as yet, unclear. The mission may involve a crew as few as two people in a modified Red Dragon. NASA, by contrast, is contemplating four to six Mars astronauts flying to Mars in an interplanetary spacecraft that would be assembled in low Earth orbit, moved to lunar orbit, and then launched from there after a checkout period. The Mars explorers would live in a habitat for about a year before returning to Earth. One should think of the scenario depicted in “The Martian” for an idea of what a NASA Mars mission would be like.

Long term, Musk envisions a massive interplanetary transport taking Mars colonists to the Red Planet to build a self-sustaining settlement.

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Eventually, he envisions upwards of a million people living on Mars, a new branch of human civilization.

What is standing in the way of SpaceX’s Martian dreams?

The one thing that always stands in the way of space visions like missions to Mars is the lack of money. The same factor is true where NASA is concerned as much as small, entrepreneurial companies such as SpaceX. The operative phrase is, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

Where NASA has to go to Congress for money to get people to Mars, Elon Musk’s problem is a little more complicated, even given the fact that SpaceX can accomplish the deed for less than the space agency can manage. Musk has two options for getting funding.

The first option is that SpaceX can get into the lunar and asteroid mining business. Trillions of dollars of resources reside on the moon and in Earth-approaching asteroids. If Musk makes a go at this potentially lucrative business, perhaps becoming the first trillionaire, he can finance any kind of space program, including Mars colonies, out of his own pocket.

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The other alternative would be for Musk to persuade Donald Trump, with whom he has a political relationship, to scrap NASA’s Journey to Mars program, along with the Orion spacecraft and the heavy lift Space Launch System, and outsource a humans to Mars program to SpaceX. The approach has some obvious political liabilities, not all of them related to Congress’ desire to funnel money to NASA contractors in their states and districts. Musk will have to persuade the government that he can carry out a Mars mission on the schedule and budget that he claims he can. That task would be a tall order, to say the least. #Race To Mars