Interplanetary Transport System. Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk’s Reddit AMA: Mars mission, upgrades to Falcon 9 and more

Yesterday, Elon Musk oh-so-kindly reached out on reddit to curious minds in an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session as a follow up to his September 27, 2016 talk at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Thousands of questions were put forth by AMA contributors, and he provided 15 answers in true, Elon fashion. By that I mean taking fairly complicated questions and answering them in ways that make the original questions more understandable for the layperson (layperson = me). Also, one word responses to two-paragraph long questions.

General Outline of AMA Topics

Elon couldn’t put every inquiry to rest, but he did provide some interesting things to chew over. The audience, of course, actively participated every step of the way. Among the topics, there was…

  • Discussion on the types of power to be used for energy in the initial base of operations on Mars: Bets were on solar, doubts were on nuclear, and Elon seemed to play the methane card by referencing the Sabatier Reaction;
  • A clarification on upgrades to the Falcon 9, including a new naming scheme that doesn’t exactly coincide with the current semi-scheme;
  • A broad outline of steps planned for setting up the initial Martian base, Elon referring to it as “Mars Base Alpha”;
  • Discussion on the technical clarifications, details, and priorities for actualizing the missions, including perhaps even changing the name of the rocket…again.

Oh and sadly, no details on any fantastic spray parks or coffee bars in the crew cabin. We’ll have to wait a “year or two” before knowing what’s actually going to go inside the thing. He did mention geodesic domes and underground tunnels for “city” considerations, though!

Top Takeaways (IMO)

While Elon’s remarks definitely set some mental wheels in motion, these were my top takeaways:

  • Elon believes that the final Falcon 9 booster will be able to be reused indefinitely, production on that version to start in about three months;
  • Early Mars missions will be cargo-centric, twelve-passenger crews assumed;
  • The transport system booster should be able to withstand 30 to 50 g’s without breaking up (20 being the usual expected amount);
  • SpaceX will release mockups of the Mars spacecraft interior “in a year or two”;
  • The transport system booster will have an easier time landing than Falcon 9 due to mass ratio and density differences.

[Author’s note: It is going to be insane to watch those boosters land. Can you imagine the Saturn V landing itself? Wowza.]

Of course, my favorite part of reddit (no, really) is the humor. Here are a couple of funnies from this thread:

Funny comments on Elon Musk AMA. Funny comments on Elon Musk AMA.

Final Words

Just a note of sympathy to anyone who’s ever felt a little overwhelmed by the technical knowledge discussions on the SpaceX subreddit (ahem, moi): I view it as akin to thinking you are a pretty knowledgeable cook and then watch an episode of Julia Child’s “The French Chef”. Just because you don’t know 182 ways to cook an egg doesn’t mean you’re not informed about cooking eggs nor are you disqualified from enjoying them. Some people just really really like knowing everything about eggs and can really get you thinking about eggs as multiple organ systems-turned gourmet meals instead of just the side that comes with your toast and home fries.


Elon Musk’s Reddit AMA: Mars mission, upgrades to Falcon 9 and more
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