SpaceX’s COO and President Gwynne Shotwell corroborated past comments made by CEO Elon Musk in a recent interview with CNBC, stating that she believed The Boring Company’s advances in tunneling technology will help SpaceX safely house humans on Mars.
Asked more broadly about collaboration between Musk’s many ventures, ranging from Tesla to Neuralink, she noted that “The Boring Company could actually be how we house people on Mars,” while also noting that Tesla’s expertise in battery technology had already found a home inside SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.
In the past, Musk has also expressed interest in and awareness of the many potential uses for advanced tunneling technologies on Mars and for settlement of the solar system more generally. Speaking at 2017’s International Space Station Research and Development Conference, the CEO was asked by an audience member whether The Boring Company was actually just a front to develop technology that would help SpaceX settle humans on Mars. He agreed, at least partially:
“I do think getting good at digging tunnels could be really helpful for Mars. It would be a different optimization for a Mars boring machine versus an Earth boring machine, [but] there’s going to be a [need for a] lot of…mining in general to get raw materials [and water ice]. And then, along the way, building underground habitats where you could get radiation shielding… you could build an entire city underground if you wanted to.”
Intriguingly, a brand new study based on long-term data gathered from the Curiosity Mars rover (also known as Mars Science Laboratory) showed that Mars’ radiation environment was significantly less hostile than many have baselined in analyses of human outposts on the planet. Combined with vast lava tubes nurtured by Mars’ intense volcanism and forgiving gravity one third that of Earth’s, underground Martian habitats may be unnecessary in the short term, although long-term radiation exposure will remain a concern for colonists settling on the Red Planet.
Put simply, the first trips to Mars with SpaceX’s BFR and BFS (Big F****** Rocket/Spaceship) could save vast amounts of precious mass by initially avoiding tunneling hardware in lieu of more versatile supplies, saving lightweight Mars-optimized TBMs for future cargo transport missions. This would also give SpaceX, Tesla, and The Boring Company additional time to perfect tunneling on Earth and to hone their synergistic battery and materials expertise. As such, past and present comments made by Musk and Shotwell likely indicate a long-term perspective, sketching out a rough outline of potential strategies they believe can help enable a permanent human presence beyond Earth, particularly the colonization of Mars.
While not yet utilizing the much larger BFS, SpaceX’s first ventures into the world of human spaceflight could begin in less than a year, per the company’s internal H1 2019 target for its first crewed Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station. Recently, Musk revealed the first photo of of a flightworthy Crew Dragon spacecraft, set to conduct its own uncrewed test flight near the end of 2018.