In late October 2001, Elon Musk travelled to Russia with the hope of buying three intercontinental ballistic missiles for $20 million. Flush with cash after co-founding PayPal, his plan was to use the rockets to blast a robotic greenhouse to Mars and grow plants using Martian soil.
‘Mars Oasis’, as the project was known, would produce the first oxygen on the Red Planet and would serve Musk’s greater goal of reigniting public interest in human space exploration.
But the Russians did not take the young dotcom millionaire seriously and no deal was ever made. Instead, Musk set about creating SpaceX to build his own rockets for a fraction of the price.
Nearly two decades later, and roughly $200 billion richer, Musk is on the cusp of building a rocket capable of inter-planetary space travel – and has already secured a multi-billion dollar contract with Nasa to use it to land astronauts on the Moon.
Starship is currently humanity’s best chance of reaching Mars, with no other private company or government space agency yet to put a program in place that will send humans any further than the Moon. SpaceX is hoping to achieve crewed missions to Mars before the end of the decade.
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