Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX, has unveiled a plan to colonise Mars with the price of a ticket less than £150,000 per person.
The South African-born entrepreneur said he hoped to make humans a “multi-planetary species” by creating a “self-sustaining city” on the Red Planet using reusable rockets.
“If we can get the cost of moving to Mars to be the same price as a median-priced house in the US of about $250,000 then I think the probability of establishing a civilization would be relatively high,” said Mr Musk.
He unveiled the scheme to build an extraterrestrial settlement on Mars “in our lifetimes”, which he previously acknowledged was “going to sound pretty crazy”, at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico.
The entrepreneur has long held planetary exploration ambitions and in 2002 he founded SpaceX, a private company aiming to innovate space travel and commercial opportunities.
The project has come under scrutiny after a series of rocket failures, including a recent explosion on takeoff that destroyed a Facebook satellite estimated to be worth more than £150 million that it was due to deliver into orbit.
Mr Musk isn’t the only person with a plan to get to Mars. US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has said that one of her aims if elected will be to “to advance our ability to make human exploration of Mars a reality”. Nasa also has a Journey to Mars programme, which plans to send humans to the planet by the 2030s.
Private company Lockheed Martin is helping Nasa gear up for its next Mars journey in 2018, which will send back information about the surface of the planet. It also working on a mission to reach Mars orbit by 2028.
“Once in orbit, these astronauts will answer fundamental scientific questions about Mars and our solar system, and also verify the ideal location for a future landing mission,” said Lockheed Martin.
The SpaceX rocket revealed by Mr Musk could transport 100 people at a time and could make the journey to Mars every 26 months. It could take as little as 30 days to reach the planet. He admitted it would take more than 1,000 rockets to create the Martian city.
The company has already begun testing parts of the Mars, including the Falcon 9 rocket booster which would propel the methane-powered carbon-fibre rocket into orbit. The booster would then return to Earth and collect more fuel before replenishing the orbiting spaceship for its journey to Mars.
Mr Musk said it would be a “challenge to fund this endeavour”, but SpaceX plans to have the first spaceship development tested in suborbital flights by 2020. It will also send unmanned Dragon spaceships to Mars within two years.
“It’s a huge amount of risk, it’s going to cost a lot, there’s a good chance we won’t succeed but we’re going to do our best,” said Mr Musk.