Elon Musk’s Plan to Send a Million Colonists to Mars by 2050 Is Pure Delusion

There’s added to clearing the Red Planet than aloof packing accomplished lotta bodies into plus-sized rockets.

Elon Musk - tramesh
Artist’s conception of a Martian colony, with SpaceX Starship rockets in the background.

In a Contempo interview, Elon Musk again his declared ambition of absent to carriage one actor's body to Mars by 2050. The SpaceX architect says the approach of altruism is at stake, which, is okay, but the timeline he offers is ludicrous, and here’s why.

Before we attempt this, I charge to accomplish it bright clear that abounding the challenges addressed in this commodity are not insurmountable. Technological achievability is not my gripe, nor do I booty affair with the admiration to arrive the Red Planet, though, as I’ve accounting before, the colonization of Mars will necessitate the transformation of the animal breed as we apperceive it.

 That the fourth planet from the Sun may host alive cities at some point in the abroad approaching is possible. My affair with all of this has to do with the stupendously absurd timelines beneath which Musk believes this will happen. In an April 2022 account with TED babysitter Chris Anderson, the billionaire acquired his plan to accelerate one actor colonists to Mars by 2050, and he did so while advancing an appreciable beeline face.

A man with a plan

Speaking to an acutely accepting Anderson, Musk batten of an able-bodied Battlestar Galactica-like accomplishment to carriage bags of colonists to Mars with a thousand SpaceX Starship rockets. Musk’s eyes charcoal accumbent with an alternation of tweets from 2020, in which he articulated a plan to body 100 Starships anniversary year over a 10-year period. 

Departing in batches, the anniversary Starship would leave for Mars during key 30-day windows that are accessible already every 26 months (the barrage breach is to booty advantage of the Earth-Mars alignment, back the two planets are abutting anniversary other). Should launches activate in 2028, and bold this acute barrage accent can be realized, Musk abstracts the Martian burghal of his dreams, with its actor inhabitants, could appear to accomplishment in aloof 22 years.

For Musk, the aerial amount of one actor isn’t aloof an ambition or a prediction—it’s an all-important claim for comestible antecedents on Mars. The “critical threshold,” he told Anderson, “is if the ships from Earth stop advancing for any reason,” which could adjudge the fate of the Martian antecedents and ultimately of altruism itself. Musk is claiming an altruistic motive, adage our disability to arrive Mars, and alteration to an interplanetary breed could serve as a clarify that ultimately after-effects in our doom. 

As he told Anderson, “I anticipate this is important for maximizing the apparent lifespan of altruism or consciousness,” but the “probable lifespan of civilizational alertness as we apperceive it” is like a “small candle in the all-inclusive darkness” of the universe—a “delicate” candle that “could aloof go out.”

Starship spacecraft - Elon Musk - tramesh
Conceptual image of a Starship spacecraft arriving at Mars.

But as Musk additionally told Anderson, activity on Mars, “especially in the beginning, will not be luxurious.” Rather, it will be “dangerous, cramped, difficult, adamantine work,” and “you ability not accomplish it back,” he said, adding: “But it’ll be glorious.”

Glorious for Elon Musk, maybe, but absolutely not for the colonists relegated to eking out an actuality in a chiefly adverse and boorish world. Well, bold they anytime get there. 

The SpaceX CEO told Anderson that “almost anyone can assignment and save up and eventually accept $100,000 and be able to go to Mars if they want,” in advertence to the accepted amount of anniversary journey. Alternatively, -to-be Martians could annex allotment from government sponsors or by demography out a loan, Musk said.


It’s as if Musk and NASA abide by two altered realities. And it’s not as if the accuracy lies about in between. The addition is not aloof wrong; addition is catastrophically wrong, and that addition is Elon Musk.


Musk, I would argue, is accepting way advanced of himself. NASA, by comparison, is acquisitive to acreage the aboriginal bodies on Mars by the backward 2030s or aboriginal 2040s. 

A bashful animal attendance would follow, but actual boring and cautiously, with beat explorers, scientists, and possibly alike some colonists, demography they're aboriginal acting babyish accomplish on this hostile, conflicting apple in the years and decades to follow.

These disparate visions of how and back Mars's ability to get colonized are absolutely out of alignment. It’s as if Musk and NASA abide by two altered realities. And it’s not as if the accuracy lies about in between. The addition is not aloof wrong; the addition is catastrophically wrong, and that addition is Elon Musk.


Predicated on vaporware

Back-of-the-envelope calculations are fun, but they can advance to erroneous and over-simplified conclusions. An all-important absoluteness analysis suggests its activity to booty cogent time and accomplishment for SpaceX to develop, test, and accredit Starship and again body these mega rockets in the quantities Musk desires. 

Elon Musk SpaceX Starship rocket - tramesh
Conceptual view of a SpaceX Starship rocket blasting off.

To be clear, the absolute chip Starship has not yet accomplished space. I’m assured SpaceX will eventually accept its colossal rocket, but the abundant launcher, a key aspect of Musk’s Martian plans, doesn’t yet exist. 

The accepted plan is to accelerate an absolutely integrated, uncrewed Starship on a super-quick alternate spaceflight after this year, but added testing and refinements will be appropriate before the agent can be put to anatomic use.

Importantly, Starship is meant to be reusable, acute SpaceX to advance an aberrant “Mechazilla” belfry that will somehow bolt the rocket during vertical coast and landing. Nothing like this has any time been done, and it could booty some time to develop.

Musk is additionally accepting to argue with regulators; the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are anxious about the abeyant ecology accident at the SpaceX barrage armpit in south Texas. As of this writing, SpaceX has not accustomed FAA approval to barrage the two-stage Starship at the Boca Chica facility.

Once Starship becomes an absolute thing, SpaceX will again accept to argue with the alarming claiming of architecture these rockets en masse. Musk’s hand-waving announcement that 100 Starships will be a congenital anniversary year is absolutely ambitious, but I’ll accept it back I see it. 

The aggregation isn’t currently able to aftermath its Raptor engines at the clip appropriate to sustain operations. Late aftermost year, Musk said this “Raptor assembly crisis” threatens a “genuine accident of bankruptcy” if SpaceX cannot barrage a Starship rocket already every two weeks. 

Yet we’re declared to accept that, in about six years or so, SpaceX will accept apparent its agent assembly problems and somehow ample out a way to accomplish Starships in all-inclusive quantities—a logistical claiming that will crave the abiding breeze of animal labor, materials, propellants, and aggregate abroad that will accomplish up this approaching rocket.


We’re alone human

Should SpaceX be able of alter so abounding bodies to Mars beyond such an abbreviate time frame, there will still abide an amazing cardinal of challenges to overcome. First and foremost, there’s the animal agency to consider. Very simply, our meat apparel is not congenital for amplitude or adverse conflicting worlds. The Red Planet, with its achingly attenuate atmosphere, algid temperatures, and non-existent magnetosphere, offers no oxygen to breathe, no baptize at the surface, and no aegis from baleful ionizing radiation. 

humans on the Martian surface - tramesh
Conceptual image showing humans on the Martian surface.

“Fulfilling Elon Musk’s dream of establishing independent antecedents on Mars entails risks that are far above those of sending a baby accumulation of bodies on a round-trip mission to that planet,” Thomas Lang, an assistant at the UCSF Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging in San Francisco, explained to me. 

“The risks of an almost baby Mars mission, which ability comprise six-month transits to and from the destination and 18-month sojourns on the surface, are already daunting.”

These challenges, he said, accommodate the advancement of animal analysis at the anatomic level, attention colonists from radiation, and ambidextrous with the furnishings of acute isolation. Space agencies about the apple are currently investigating these risks, and Lang believes we’ll eventually acquire the means to affect them.

But alike if these risks can be addressed, “establishing one-million-person antecedents on Mars” still represents “a bound into the unknown, both in the agreement of engineering and amusing evolution,” Lang said. 

Private firms like SpaceX, and additionally government agencies, “could eventually body the aircraft and several of the altered acknowledging technologies like habitats, ability generation, and transport,” he said, but those challenges “would be a baby compared to the claiming of addition out how to ‘live off the land,’ extracting from Mars the assets bare to abutment this population.” And if some solutions were to appear for the on-site assembly of assets during antecedent Martian missions, it’s “not bright that it could be auspiciously scaled up to abutment an ample population,” Lang added.


Barely affair the bald aliment of life

Jill Sohm, administrator of the Environment Studies Program at the University of Southern California, thinks of the botheration in the agreement with basal animal needs. Humans can “go a few accounts after breathing, a few canicule after drinking, and a few weeks after eating, so oxygen, water, and aliment are the bald necessities,” she told me. “Without these, we could not survive, let abandoned thrive.”

Altering the atmosphere of Mars such that air is breathable aural a few decades is acutely not possible. This agency colonists will charge to alive in amid environments and accept “efficient recycling systems to abolish carbon dioxide and accomplish oxygen” to accumulate the air breathable, explained Sohm. Providing baptizing to an actor's body represents an additional actual difficult challenge. Sohm said baptize can be fabricated with hydrogen, oxygen, and a lot of energy, but those things aren’t readily accessible on Mars.

“Bringing baptize that ambit from Earth for ample antecedents is additionally not possible, so the ice would accept to begin and broiled on Mars. Ice can allegedly be begun at the poles and conceivably beneath the surface, but the poles are acutely algid and far abroad from warmer areas area antecedents would acceptable be built,” Sohm said. 

“If abundant ice could be amid and extracted to accommodate water, afresh we would charge an able recycling arrangement that kept it from abrogation the colony. All decay would charge to be captured and bankrupt and put back into circulation.”

It’s an alarming challenge, no doubt. Now, an basement to abutment an actor Martians may eventually be built, but the bond advancement that such a basement will spontaneously and instantly appear to abide with the accession of these agog colonists is annihilation abbreviate of a joke.

Then there’s the catechism of how to augment them. Sohm estimates that the settlers would crave about 580 aboveboard afar (1,500 aboveboard kilometers) of agronomical crop acreage to augment antecedents of that size.


 “I’d point out that all of this would alone accommodate the bald minimum of adaptation for anyone active in a Mars colony, so we would absolutely charge to ask ourselves the catechism of what we would accede an acceptable activity on Mars that would accomplish it account it for anyone to booty the risk.”


 This may not be complete like a lot, “but it’s about the admeasurement of the burghal of Los Angeles, an area I live,” she said. Colonists would charge acceptable affection soil, water, and some anatomy of fertilizer, the closing of which could be produced through wastewater analysis and composting food, she added. Sohm, accepting she’s not an engineer, said she “can’t say how achievable any of this is, but I would say that this appraisal makes bright to me that it is an awe-inspiring task,” and the adamantine accuracy is that “we don’t accept a handle on how to carbon on an ample calibration the accustomed processes that accomplish our planet so appropriate and habitable.”

To that she added: “I’d suggests that each one of this may abandon board the baldheaded minimum of adjustment for anyone alive during a Mars colony, therefore we'd completely charge to raise ourselves the catechism of what we'd accede a suitable activity on Mars that may accomplish it account it for anyone to pillage the chance.”

Show me the technology

Serkan Saydam, a mining engineering assistant from the University of New South Wales in Australia, says we currently acquire the technology appropriate to accelerate bodies to Mars, but we abridgment the tech to authorize a Martian colony, and we will actual acceptable abridgment the accommodation to sustain a Martian burghal inhabited by an actor body by 2050. 

“Because to authorize an off-Earth city, we will charge to authorize abounding added off-Earth operations to assemble the burghal and additionally abutment its people,” Saydam said.

Firstly, colonists will charge new technologies to abstract assets locally, as bringing these appropriate abstracts from Earth would be “very risky,” “extremely expensive,” and “simply not feasible,” he explained. 

Colonists will accept to antecedent and abstract the majority of the appropriate abstracts on Mars and possibly from adjacent asteroids, and additionally authorize beneficiation systems for processing the raw abstracts and accessories for accomplishment products, he said. These activities will crave animal labor, which will in about-face crave baptize and food, Saydam added.

To acquiesce to these sorts of operations, the technology “must aftermath added activity and materials” than what’s bare for basal adaptation on Mars, he said, and these elements will additionally charge to be stored for approaching use in the colony. Saydam said robots would accomplish these processes easier, but “even our earthbound mining systems are not absolutely free yet.”

Saydam provided me with an alarming account of added challenges that will charge to be overcome, such as accepting an added geological and geotechnical compassionate of Mars, establishing a reliable ability supply, creating markets to abutment the accumulation chain, abbreviation risks for business, and added stakeholders, accomplishment acknowledged standards and ethical guidelines for the clearing of new land, and attention amplitude for peaceful endeavors, amid added issues.

Artist’s conception of a Martian colony - tramesh
Artist’s conception of a Martian colony.

Sohm’s beforehand purpose concerning our incapacity to carbon accustomed processes on Associate in Nursing ample standardisation rang a bell in my memory of the futile part a pair of abstracts from the Nineteen Nineties. 

The 2 bankrupt missions approved the appalling challenges of managing bankrupt ecosystems. That ample antecedents on Mars may survive and beforehand once this quickness appears uncertain. Kevin Olsen, a man of science at the University of Oxford United Nations agency will abstracts assay for the ExoMars Trace Gas satellite mission, aforementioned it’s “fundamentally absurd to actualize Associate in Nursing completely bankrupt ambiance in area.” 

Air, water, and ammunition “will be boring absent over a continued period, thus Associate in Nursing antecedent must become a branch and aftermath these items,” he said. “This technology is way, way aft the technology of amplitude flight and address construction,” explained Olsen. 

A Contempo agreement involving NASA’s Perseverance rover, within which was extracted from the dioxide within the Martian atmosphere, was Associate in Nursing “interesting advance,” aforementioned Olsen. That’s true, however we have a tendency to don't seem to be alike accidentally adjacent to remodeling this proof-of-concept agreement into an editorial sensible. 

Life, however not as we have a tendency to comprehend it Earth, incompatible Mars, has Associate in Nursing in a position tempting area that protects North American nation from radiation. Our tempting area is ample pr that it to boot offers aegis to the International Amplitude Station, Olsen told ME, “so alike our enduring stays and radiation abstracts in amplitude won’t completely adapt North American nation for the risks of enduring acknowledgment on a cruise to Mars and activity on its surface.”