No amount of money will buy you a ticket to Mars right now, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musksays the cost of relocating to another planet could be $500,000 in the not-too-distant future. If you decide you don’t like it on Mars, no problem; you can come back to Earth for free. Musk cautions that his ballpark estimate is highly dependent on volume, though.
SpaceX hasn’t even managed a test fire of its upcoming Starship spacecraft with the Super Heavy first stage booster. However, that hasn’t stopped Musk from musing on the possible timeline for colonizing Mars in the past. He’s previously pointed to the mid-2020s as a realistic goal for delivering humans to Mars, but other experts in the field believe there’s too much we don’t know to make that a reality.
When SpaceX is ready to send someone to Mars (whenever that is), they’ll probably go aboard the Starship. This vessel will be able to take as many as 100 people on the multi-month journey to Mars. Initially, tickets to Mars will doubtlessly be expensive. After all, Japanese fashion magnate Yusaku Maezawa is paying a significant chunk of the Starship’s design costs to get his own lunar orbit excursion — that probably means billions of dollars.
If SpaceX can sell out the seats on Martian Starship flights, Musk thinks $500,000 is an attainable ticket price. That means a lot of people in developed countries could liquidate their Earth assets (like their house) and pay for settlement on Mars. In Musk’s tweet, he speculates that the cost could eventually drop to as little as $100,000. To put that in context, Virgin Galactic plans to charge about $200,000 for a few minutes of sub-orbital flight.
All of the proposed trips to Mars would come with a free return journey if a colonist decides life on Mars isn’t right for them. Since the Starship is reusable, it has to come back to Earth eventually anyway. So, there would be room for those who want to return. However, the lower gravity on Mars could make it difficult for former Martians to adapt to life on Earth again. There’s also uncertainty surrounding how people will live on Mars long-term. All SpaceX’s mockups show surface cities, but radiation on Mars might necessitate underground habitation. That’s one of the many reasons Musk’s plans for Mars seem a bit premature, but at least he’s not targeting unreasonably huge price tags.