Most of us would like to step out on the surface of Mars and go all John Carter with its gravity someday, and if you believe SpaceX CEO Elon Musk someday might not be too far away. With a reusable rocket system and a refueling station right on the Red Planet, Musk believes he can get you to Mars a few years from now, at a ticket price of only half a million dollars.
Musk has been getting quite a bit of press recently as he continues to tout the developments his California company is making in privatizing space travel. SpaceX has had only seven launches thus far (and three of them didn't work), but its real test will come next month, when its Falcon 9 rocket will make an unmanned delivery to the International Space Station.
Musk is already looking ahead, though, to what his company can do to make that elusive manned mission to Mars possible. He believes that, with advancing technology already beginning to lower costs and the right plan in place, it's not only possible to get people there regularly, but to do it much more affordably than the way NASA's been trying to do things.
"My vision is for a fully reusable rocket transport system between Earth and Mars that is able to refuel on Mars—this is very important—so you don't have to carry the return fuel when you go there," he said.
"The whole system [must be] reusable—nothing is thrown away. That's very important, because then you're just down to the cost of the propellant.
"We will probably unveil the overall strategy later this year in a little more detail, but I'm quite confident that it could work and that ultimately we could offer a round trip to Mars that the average person could afford—let's say the average person after they've made some savings."
Setting aside how great it would be if $500,000 were actually money that an "average" person had, Musk isn't actually being too unrealistic here. He doesn't believe he can do it tomorrow, but over time, he thinks he can really fly you to Mars for the price of a pretty nice house.
"Land on Mars, a round-trip ticket—half a million dollars. It can be done," he said.
Musk claims he can introduce commercial flights to Mars in 10 to 15 years, and get the cost down to $500,000 per ticket by about a decade later. Meanwhile, NASA is still working on a system—most of which wouldn't be reusable—for its own manned Mars missions. With all the budget cuts lately, though, those flights might not happen until the 2030s.
Musk's claim seems like a pipe dream right now, but if his company's ISS launch goes well enough, they could get further NASA backing to develop new modes of space transport, and that could lead to a reusable vessel to get us to Mars. So start filling up that piggy bank, space rangers.