2016: Guadalajara, Mexico
On September 27, 2016, Musk gave a keynote at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, titled “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species,” which laid out his grand plan for sending humans to Mars and beyond.
Before the presentation, SpaceX built hype by sharing this inspirational video of the first Mars colonists that imagines humans walking across a sky bridge from a silo and into a spacecraft attached to a SpaceX rocket booster.
Musk also wondered then how SpaceX might pay for the project, saying “obviously it’s going to be a challenge to fund this whole endeavor,” adding that putting satellites into orbit and contracts with NASA would help. There was no mention of Starlink, the plan for a constellation of internet satellites, though. Nor was there any talk of reusable starships. Watch below:
He also predicted how much a trip to Mars might cost — you might just have to sell your house. “If we can get the cost of moving to Mars to the cost of a median house price in the U.S., which is around $200,000, then I think the probability of establishing a self-sustaining civilization is very high,” Musk said, noting that each ship would carry about 100 people to Mars. Eventually, 200 people could make the trip.
Musk also said the rocket booster might be able to carry people and goods from New York City to Tokyo in thirty minutes. It was an idea Musk was still talking about as recently as June of this year, though he admitted the trip might feel like a ride on Space Mountain, the famous rollercoaster at Disney World.
Here’s how Musk said SpaceX might one day go beyond Mars — Jupiter?!? — in that 2016 presentation:
In a memorable Q&A with attendees at that 2016 conference, Musk also explained why SpaceX only hires Americans: “I think people are a bit confused about this; unfortunately, this is not up to us,” Musk said. “U.S. Government regulations make getting a job in the U.S. hard enough as it, but if but if you’re working on rocket technology, that’s considered an advanced weapons technology, so even a normal work visa isn’t sufficient unless you get a special permission from the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State. So I want to be clear, this is not out of some desire of SpaceX to just hire people with green cards.” Below is that exchange:
He also revealed the name for the first ship that would travel to Mars, a nod to his affinity for classic science fiction: “The name of the first ship that goes to Mars, not the name of the whole ship line necessarily, but the first ship that goes to Mars … my current favorite is Heart of Gold,” he said, after the ship in the Douglas Adams novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “It’s driven by infinite improbability, because I think our ship is also extremely improbable. I like the infinite improbability drive,” he said. Here’s Musk on the name of that first Starship:
Musk also clarified at the 2016 event if he would actually go to Mars himself: “I would definitely like to go to orbit and visit space station and ultimately go to Mars. I’ve got to make sure that if something goes wrong on the flight and if I die that there’s a good succession plan and that [SpaceX] doesn’t somehow get taken over by investors who just want to maximize the profit of the company not go to Mars. That would be my biggest fear in that situation.”
Finally, he addressed how those Mars colonists might return to Earth — by producing methane on Mars as rocket fuel for the return trip.