Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been at the forefront of ambitious plans for Mars colonisation, a vision Musk has passionately championed for nearly two decades. Despite the technological, political, and ethical challenges, the financial aspect remains a critical hurdle, with Musk refraining from estimating the colossal costs involved in such an endeavour.

Musk, SpaceX’s CEO and chief engineer, sees the interplanetary venture as a form of “life insurance for life as a whole” in the face of potential Earthly disasters. While Musk’s personal wealth has soared to around US$100 billion, largely from Tesla stock and awards, the Mars project’s financial intricacies remain unresolved. SpaceX has raised nearly $6 billion from various sources, positioning itself as one of the world’s most highly valued private companies.

The last space program approaching Musk’s aspirations was NASA’s Apollo program, costing over US$280 billion in today’s dollars. NASA, currently receiving less than half a percent of the federal budget, is also contemplating lunar and Martian missions.

Musk’s Mars rocket, Starship, is under development, with estimated costs of up to US$10 billion. However, the financial viability of a Mars settlement, especially within the first 100 years, is uncertain, according to Michael Meyer, NASA’s lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program.

Terraforming, the process of making Mars more Earth-like, is a key part of Musk’s vision. Yet, mainstream scientists question its feasibility due to Mars’ limited resources, thin atmosphere, and lack of water. Musk’s vision includes the eventual profitability of Mars travel, with ideas as the potential export, though no concrete business model has been outlined.

Critics highlight ethical considerations, urging clarity on who the first Mars settlers might be and emphasising the need for well-defined objectives and agreements. SpaceX did not respond to requests for comments on these concerns. Musk’s journey to Mars remains an audacious goal, combining the challenges of space exploration with financial uncertainties and ethical responsibilities.