Interplanetary Travel on the Horizon?

Vittorio Colicci ‘18
EE Staff Writer

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An artist’s rendering of the Interplanetary Spaceship’s approach to Mars.

There was once a time when the sky was the limit for one’s dreams and aspirations. Now, with the help of companies like SpaceX, human opportunity has begun to soar even higher.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Conference this past September, Elon Musk, CEO of the aerospace manufacturer, broke new ground by finally revealing his plan for Martian colonization. His goal: to make the human race multiplanetary.

Due to the immense cost of space travel, commercial exploration has always been difficult. In the past, achievements like the moon landing necessitated the use of government resources, but in recent years, dependency on decreased funding has only led to stagnation.

This was the issue that, in 2002, prompted the creation of SpaceX. If the still barely-touched final frontier was to be opened up to humanity, the restrictive costs associated with it would need to be limited. In the words of Musk, “the fundamental breakthrough that needs to occur in rocketry is a rapidly and completely reusable rocket.” Thus, the development of a cheaper approach with new technologies began.

Now that rocket reusability has become a common sight in aerospace engineering, SpaceX has shifted its focus to getting humans to Mars.

To achieve this, Musk intends to take a bold approach using what he has named the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). It is set to contain three parts – the first being the super-heavy lift launch vehicle (SHLV).

Powered by forty-two of SpaceX’s own Raptor engines, the SHLV would act as a reusable booster to carry the other components into orbit.

Aboard the spaceship itself, part two of the ITS, an estimated 100 passengers could be transported to the red planet. The ship would attach to the booster for atmospheric flight and detach once in orbit, allowing the booster to return to Earth.  

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The Interplanetary Spaceship’s fuel tank, whose magnitude shows the massive scale of the ITS. The ship’s liquid oxygen propellant will be stored here.

Meanwhile, the passengers would wait in space for the SHLV to reload and arrive with the third component, the ITS Tanker. The Tanker would be used as a refueling station for the ship, launched without fuel to keep it light. With the spaceship then set, it could begin its journey to Mars.

With Musk’s plan on the forefront of reality, it is evident that the world is changing. Humanity is on the verge of taking an enormous leap, and according to Musk, pushing for change is not “a question of profit versus nonprofit. It [is] how do we live?”

There are things greater the simple incidences of everyday life, and to advance as a species, we must work towards them. With all that is being done by SpaceX, it is apparent that with each passing day, we are closer to achieving greatness.

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