...i.e. 10'000 folks for a mere $5B in total: http://www.marssociety.org/home/pres...rssayselonmusk
Seriously, I believe that having a vision is fine, and I wish Elon luck, but I believe that he is overreaching here. And...That moment may be closer than anyone thinks. Musk declared recently that he could put a human on Mars in 10 to 20 years' time. It is a remarkable claim, yet even more astonishingly Musk tells me that he could do it for $5 billion, and possibly as little as $2 billion - a snip when you consider that the International Space Station (ISS) has cost at least $100 billion to build and operate, or that $2 billion is roughly the cost of launching four space shuttle missions.
Musk doesn't just want to stop at one human. In his Heinlein prize acceptance speech, he said he wants to put 10,000 people on Mars. Musk rarely makes public statements merely for effect but a call for 10,000 would-be Martians is extraordinary, even by his standards. When I query him on this point, he pauses. Is he reconsidering? Yes... but, as with so much else about Musk, not in a predictable way. "Ultimately we don't really want 10,000 people on Mars," he says, after letting the pause linger a few seconds more. "We want millions."
15 tonnes to Mars at a cost of $100 to $200 per kilogram.... Uh.Musk is eventually hoping to build this kind of reusability into SpaceX's newest launch vehicle, the Falcon Heavy. Scheduled for testing in early 2013, Falcon Heavy will be the largest rocket flown since NASA's Saturn V launched astronauts to the moon. Musk says that a reusable version of the rocket could deliver a payload of up to 15 tonnes to Mars at a cost of $100 to $200 per kilogram. That makes his $5 billion humans-to-Mars price tag seem realistic. Even so, the Falcon Heavy would need to be "heavier" still to carry the minimum 50-tonne payload needed for a Mars mission. But Musk, whose title at SpaceX is CEO and chief technology officer, is working on that too.
Since Ares V (130 tons to LEO) would throw 50 tons to Mars, then F9H (50 tons to LEO) should be able to throw 20 tons to Mars. Aerobraking at Mars incurs a 10-20% weight penalty (IIRC), so the 15-tons-to-Mars claim seems to pass the smell test. OTOH, since the payload to Mars is 1/3 of IMLEO (see above), then his actual price to Mars is 3x the LEO price. So even if he manages to get the LEO price down to $100/kg, then the price to Mars is $300/kg.
But assuming that he can do that, I propose we discuss the (in)feasibility of Elon Direct. My immediate objections are:
1. He would be sending stuff to Mars in 15 ton chunks. I wonder how much people, equipment and supplies can fit in 15 tons? How much would his Mars Transfer Vehicle weight? How many launches per opportunity are we talking about?
2. I don't see how any return capacity could fit in here...