Since Elon Musk unveiled his Big [Expletive] Rocket (BFR) in Adelaide last month, there has been a lot of analysis of the engineering aspects. Musk’s Ask Me Anything session on Reddit was an engineer’s dream, with the billionaire providing detailed answers about the Raptor engines, thrust to weight ratios and a host of other technical issues.
Amid all the technical talk, there has been little attention paid to what a giant leap this venture is for Musk, SpaceX and possibly the entire human race. Not only will BFR be larger and more powerful than any other rocket ever built, the audacious things Musk wants to do with it – ranging from point to point transportation on Earth to satellite delivery to sending colonists to the moon and Mars – are on a scale never before attempted. They are certainly beyond anything contemplated by the world’s space agencies.
During his appearance at the International Space Station R&D Conference on Wednesday, Elon Musk recited an old argument to support his plans to colonize Mars.
Back in the day,California was an empty place where almost nobody lived. At least until some crazy visionaries built the Transcontinental Railroad to it even though everyone thought it was a completely crazy thing to do.
“The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system. It’s like building the Union Pacific Railroad. And once that transport system is built then there’s a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new or build the foundations of a new planet.
“When they were building the Union Pacific, a lot of people said that’s a super dumb idea because hardly anybody lives in California. But, now today we’ve got the U.S. epicenter of technology development and entertainment, and it’s the biggest state in the nation.
Elon Musk SpaceX Founder & CEO
By Douglas Messier Managing Edtior
The idea of a transcontinental railroad to the West Coast came into the world in 1830 as many dreams do: as a visionary, if seemingly outrageous, plan that few people took seriously. Why build a rail line through a howling wilderness where almost nobody lived? It would be a hideously expensive boondoggle, a road to nowhere.
This same problem has dogged the space movement since Sputnik was launched 60 years ago. While Hartwell Carver and other backers of the transcontinental railroad were able to overcome all the obstacles in their way, human progress in the silent vacuum of space has been slow and halting. It has never lived up the expectations people had at the start of the Space Age.
The Transcontinental Railroad would be the largest and most expensive infrastructure program in the history of the still-young American republic. And it would be the most difficult to accomplish, pushing men and machinery to their limits as they battled the terrain and the elements. It was a monumental engineering achievement for the 19th century.
In 1832, Dr. Hartwell Carver wrote an article for the New York Courier & Enquirer advocating the construction of a railroad from Lake Michigan to the West Coast. The railroad would open up western territories to settlers, facilitate trade with Asia via port facilities on the Puget Sound, and help unify the growing United States.
The New York physician and businessman was not the first to propose the railroad; some pamphleteers had done so as early as 1830. But, he was among the most vocal and high profile of those who wanted to use the newly invented steam engine to push the United States to the West Coast. Carver would fight for decades to get a transcontinental railroad built.
Last September, Elon Musk stood on stage in a packed auditorium in Guadalajara, Mexico, and invoked America’s 19th century expansion into the West to support his plan to colonize Mars in the 21st century.
“The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system,” he said. “It’s like building the Union Pacific Railroad. And once that transport system is built then there’s a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new or build the foundations of a new planet.