SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stood before a huge audience at a conference in Guadalajara, Mexico and laid out his vision of Mars colonization. A massive rocket that would dwarf anything that has ever been launched from the surface of the Earth resides at the center of that vision. Musk’s goal is to establish a city on Mars numbering a million people sometime later in the current century.

The rocket, called the Interplanetary Transportation System, would be capable of taking 100 to 200 people from Earth to Mars.

The ITS would launch a stage containing the Mars colonists and their cargo into low Earth orbit and then land. The same rocket would then launch one or more fuel tanks that would dock with the orbiting spacecraft and top off its tanks. Then the Mars ship would blast off to Mars, taking about 180 days to cross the interstellar gulfs before landing on the Red Planet. A fuel plant, using resources on Mars to create rocket propellant, would refuel the spacecraft that would then return to Earth.

Musk envisions 1,000 of these transports voyaging between Earth and Mars, taking people to live a new life on a new world. The vision he presented would be daunting for any nation or coalition of nations to undertake. For a private company to propose it is breathtaking. The SpaceX CEO suggested that his version of the Mars project would be a worldwide project that would combine the resources of governments and private industry.

Musk was coy about exactly how much his Mars colonization scheme would cost, though 1,000 giant spacecraft would likely be an enormous expense. He also was not exactly clear as to why the world should undertake the settlement of Mars, perhaps relying on what might be called “the cool factor” to sell his vision.

In fact, the long-term survival of the human species would be a good overarching reason to settle Mars.

If the human race is a multi-planet species, no one catastrophe can wipe it out. Also, the effort to put a million people on Mars to create a self-sustaining colony would organize the world’s energy as nothing short of a world war could, providing unity and a vision that could elevate the current century beyond the squalid conditions of terrorism and political rancor.

It remains to be seen whether Musk can get a handle on the exact cost of his plan and then to sell it to the world beyond the narrow confines of space enthusiasts.

His plan, at least in its broad outlines, seems to have passed the technical feasibility test, which is no small thing,   

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