It took us thousands of years to arrive at this point of civilization on our planet. However, if Elon Musk is to be believed, our next stop, Mars, may be home to a budding human settlement in as little as (or as long as) 40 to 100 years.
Along with the How, the question of When also arises. It may just take the edge off our excitement if we were to know that Mars missions will take place after we are long dead and gone. However, in all probability, flights to Mars may start much earlier and some of us may even be around to witness the birth of a brand new civilization on the red planet.
Speaking about the time-line of setting up a colony on the Planet, Musk said,
If we say the minimum threshold for a self-sustaining city on Mars, or civilization, would be a million people, and you can only go every two years, if you have 100 people per ship, that’s 10,000 trips. So I think at least 100 people per trip is the right order of magnitude, and I think we actually may end up expanding the crew section and ultimately taking more like 200 or more people per flight in order to reduce the cost per person.
And believe it or not, price is going to be the defining factor at work here. By sending humans in bulk, SpaceX will be able to reduce the cost entailed in an exponential manner.
But 10,000 flights is a lot of flights. So you’d really want ultimately I think on the order of 1,000 ships. It would take a while to build up to a thousand ships, and so I think if you say when we reach that million-person threshold, from the point at which the first ship goes to Mars, it’s probably somewhere between 20 to 50 total Mars rendezvous. So it’s probably somewhere between maybe 40 to 100 years to achieve a fully self-sustaining civilization on Mars.
There are a lot of ifs and wheathers involved in the above statements. Musk is probably aware of the fact that this enterprise is not certain, as well. However, a more clear road map for this purpose than ever before, has been laid out and the SpaceX CEO is going ahead with it full steam.
However, it is going to take time. Considering that it took humans millenniums to populate this planet, 40 to 100 years to set us up on the next one, is far from slow.