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SpaceX’s Elon Musk’s next great endeavor? A human colony on Mars

A human colony on Mars? It could come sooner than you expect, according to Elon Musk.

That is the plan put forth by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who told an audience  at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London earlier this month that he plans to push in the coming years  for a mission to Mars.

“At Mars, you can start a self-sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big,” Mr. Musk told the audience.

While the idea seems a bit far-fetched, the SpaceX founder is well known for his massive endeavors. Mr. Musk, who has founded or co-founded four separate $50 billion companies, recently founded SpaceX, a private space company. He is also working on Tesla Motors, an electric car company with plans to replace gas-powered cars by the end of the century.

Speaking Monday, Mr. Musk said he has begun preliminary research on the project, saying he would recruit upwards of ten astronauts who would live on the planet as the colony was built. The SpaceX founder noted that he plans to reach our to his base of investors in an effort to build support for a mission, adding that and initial infusion of capital would be necessary.

“Some money has to be spent on establishing a base on Mars. It’s about getting the basic fundamentals in place,” Mr. Musk said. “That was true of the English colonies (in the Americas); it took a significant expense to get things started. But once there are regular Mars flights, you can get the cost down to half a million dollars for someone to move to Mars. Then I think there are enough people who would buy that to have it be a reasonable business case.”

It’s also not the first time the serial entrepreneur has proposed putting humans on Mars. In an August interview with ABC’s Nightline, shortly after NASA’s rover Curiosity landed on Mars, Mr. Musk said that he sought to put a human being on Mars in “12 to 15 years.”

“I’m confident at this point,” Mr. Musk said at the time, “it can be done.”

Ultimately, Mr. Musk says he envisions a human colony of 80,000 people living on Mars. The trip would cost an estimated $500,000 per passenger and the trip could take upwards of six months. Mr. Musk’s $500,000 ticket price for a Mars trip was derived from what he thinks is affordable, a point he emphasized during his speech earlier this month.

“The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,” he said, comparing the purchase to buying a house in California.

Mr. Musk said that  the Mars endeavor would be separate from his SpaceX operation. That said, the information gleaned by the production would be utilized, including plans to build a fully reusable rocket that that would likely be an evolution of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, which launches Dragon.

“It’s going to be much bigger (than Falcon 9), but I don’t think we’re quite ready to state the payload. We’ll speak about that next year,” Mr. Musk said, emphasizing that only fully reusable rockets and spacecraft would keep the ticket price for Mars migration affordable.

Mr. Musk’s comment comes as NASA has awarded SpaceX a$1.6 billion contract to carry out twelve flights of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to re-supply the International Space Station (ISS). Speaking at the time, Mr. Musk said the successful flight to the ISS represented a new era of spaceflight.

“What this mission really does is it heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one where there is a significant commercial space element,” Mr. Musk said.