Elon Musk’s AMA | Vol. 3 / No. 52.2

On Sunday, Elon Musk did an “Ask Me Anything” session over at reddit’s amazing r/spacex community. It was a really excellent experience and both he and the community members seemed to have a great time. Because the community is mostly composed of folks who (a) either know and love the nitty-gritty of the engineering details, or (b) know that they don’t know the nitty-gritty and are happy to step aside for those who do, the questions were much more productive than the majority of the ridiculous questions that he got after the IAC talk where everything was announced.

The questions and answers have been written up and put on attractive backgrounds by /u/zlsa (see below) but here are the highlights:

  • The current plan is a four-step one:
    • 1. Send Dragons. At first it’ll be to make sure they can land on Mars “without adding a crater” (RIP Schiaparelli), and after that it’ll be to test out the in-situ fuel making process.
    • 2. Send the Heart of Gold. The first ITS ship (which won’t be called ITS ships for long, since Musk commented that “I think we need a new name. ITS just isn’t working.”) will be called the Heart of Gold, and it’ll go on its own with the fuel-making plant equipment.
    • 3. Send the first humans to Mars. They’ll use the tech on the Heart of Gold to actually build the propellant plant and build — get this — “Mars Base Alpha.”
    • 4. Send more and more people. The idea is to “double the number of flights with each Earth-Mars orbital rendezvous, which is every 26 months, until the city can grow by itself.”
  • Mars Base Alpha will initially be constructed out of a combination of glass and carbon-fiber geodesic domes on the surface and pressurized tunnels to keep the long-term inhabitants safe from radiation. In the subsequent threads it was noted that five metres of Martian regolith would reduce the radiation exposure to what we experience outside on Earth, so that’s got a good chance of being the depth they’ll aim for. Musk says this will probably require “a lot of miner/tunneling droids.”
  • They’ll be pressure testing the giant fuel tank we saw photos of at IAC in the coming weeks, taking it up to “2/3 burst pressure,” but don’t worry, they’re going to be doing it on a barge.
  • Elon Musk has the same problem with consistency in naming schemes that Windows does (3.1, 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, 7, 8, 10). He referred to the fully-resuable Falcons (the ones that’ll be reused 10 times or more) as the “block five” Falcons, which means (if you’re keeping track like /u/Destructor1701) the Falcon series goes Falcon 9 / v1.0; Falcon 9 v1.1; Falcon 9r v1.1; Falcon 9 Full Thrust / FT; and Falcon 9 Block 5.

Of course those are the highlights for people who don’t drool over rocket schematics and specs, which many people do. If you’re one of them, seriously, read the AMA highlights in the imgur gallery below. You’ll love it.

Elon Musk AMA


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.