2022 has undoubtedly been an intense year for Elon Musk. The main reason has been Twitter, but the tycoon’s companies are more than his companies and one of these is located beyond the final frontier: Mars. It has rained a lot since then, but the plans are moving forward. Little by little, yes.
Interviewed in 2021 by Time magazine, which had just named him person of the year, Musk assured that the human being would reach the red planet in five years at the most: “I would be surprised if we do not land on Mars within five years.” The businessman has had to focus his attention on other adventures, but SpaceX has continued to work on some of the key elements for a future mission to Mars.
The first: Starship. The ship that should take humans to set foot on a planet other than ours could be almost ready. “We have an opportunity at the end of February. A launch attempt in March seems highly likely. assured Musk In the past week. This already implies a few months of delay if we take into account that a little less than a year ago the hope was to put the Starship into orbit before the end of 2022.
We have a real shot at late February. March launch attempt appears highly likely.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 8, 2023
Starship consists of two elements. The ship itself and a first stage named Super Heavy. Both stages of the rocket are already assembled at StarbaseSpaceX’s South Texas operations center where the company has been experimenting with both vehicles.
Both elements of the rocket are in principle reusable. If all goes according to plan the first stage, Super Heavy will splash down over the Gulf of Mexico, while Starship will complete an orbit until it reaches eastern Pacific waters. Another point to keep in mind is that this year will be the first joint flight between Starship and Super Heavy, but it will also be the first Starship flight in almost two years.
And the moon? But Starship has a pending mission, closer, to the Moon. The SpaceX ship became the lander chosen by NASA to attempt the descent to our satellite. Although Musk spoke of 2024 as the year of the arrival of the Starship on the Moon, NASA’s plans do not seem to keep up with him either.
The first Artemis mission departed last November aboard an SLS rocket. The SLS will be the rocket that sends the astronauts of the Apollo successor program to lunar orbit. They will travel in an Orion capsule but, according to plans, Starship will be the vehicle they use for their descent to the satellite.
According to the calendars managed by the US space agency, the third Artemis mission, the one that would land on the Moon, could arrive around 2025 or 2026. Imagine the human arriving on Mars before his return to the Moon seems difficult.
An interplanetary civilization
Musk’s ultimate goal is to turn humanity into an interplanetary species. Although we already know of various exoplanets that are candidates for living conditions similar to those of Earth, Mars has an advantage: it is close.
Despite this, the disadvantages are notorious. The red planet lacks an atmosphere and cannot shield us from solar radiation as Earth does, since it does not have a magnetosphere like ours. Its magnetic field is not comparable to ours, which would imply a need for isolation today out of our reach.
Terraforming the red planet has another problem. We know that Mars had large reserves of water that vanished. One possible explanation is that the gravity exerted by the neighboring planet is not sufficient to maintain a proper hydrosphere. So large reservoirs of water would have left behind only ice at the poles and possibly underground reservoirs.
Hitting the dates for the advances and discoveries to come is more a matter of luck than of luck. Even more so when they come from interested parties. Nonetheless the arrival of humanity on Mars seems within our grasp.
The (expensive) success of the first Artemis mission and other recent advances in space engineering such as the launch of the James Webb telescope and the new Chinese Tiangong space station invite some optimism.
It is likely that we will see Mars reach us sooner. Two missions, one Euro-American and the other Chinese, have set 2033 as the date for the return of Martian soil samples to Earth. Musk still has room to get ahead, perhaps as long as his other companies allow him to.
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