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Elon Musk: Space entrepreneur's race to Mars

Where did Musk's obsession with Mars come from and how are current plans progressing?

Elon Musk is on the cusp of a historic moment in his space ambitions, as SpaceX prepares to take two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday.

It is a crucial point for the entrepreneur, marking the first time a private company has attempted to send astronauts into space.

But his eye is very much set further than the ISS, and is locked on Mars…

SpaceX
SpaceX was founded in 2002 (Nasa /Kim Shiflett/PA)

– Why is Elon Musk so interested in reaching Mars?

Musk said he started doing background research on space exploration in early 2002, after wondering why the US had made so little progress in putting humans in space since the Apollo missions – the last of which took place in 1972.

He spent some time inquiring about the cost of rockets and even went to Russia to find a cheaper alternative.

His first idea was called Mars Oasis, in which he conceptualised sending a small robotic lander to the Red Planet with seeds to start growing plants in martian radiated conditions.

SpaceX was founded in 2002, when Musk’s wider space ambitions became serious, though Mars has remained one of his ultimate goals.

– So is Elon Musk’s plan for humans to one day visit Mars?

Musk’s desire is not only for people to be able to visit Mars one day, but eventually to live there.

The 48-year-old wants to establish a self-sustaining city on the Red Planet, complete with iron foundries and even pizzerias.

And Musk fully intends to live there himself, previously saying he believes there is a “70% chance” he will make the trip.

– How does he plan to get there?

Current efforts at SpaceX are focused on its Starship spacecraft, which Musk wants to use to not only reach the Moon and Mars, but also planets far beyond.

SpaceX says Starship will be the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, able to carry more than 100 metric tonnes to Earth orbit.

Starship, coupled with a Super Heavy rocket, is intended to be a reusable transportation system capable of on orbit refuelling and utilising natural H2O and CO2 resources on Mars to refuel.

– When does Musk want to reach Mars?

In 2017, Musk said he hoped to send unmanned spacecraft to Mars by 2022, followed by the first crewed flight in 2024.

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