SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk participated in a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Monday night ahead of his company’s planned rocket launch from Florida on Tuesday. SpaceX plans to launch its Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry supplies to the International Space Station, at 6:20 a.m. ET. If all goes as planned, the rocket will complete a soft vertical landing on a drone “spaceport ship” in the Atlantic with the goal of creating a “fully and rapidly reusable rocket.”
Drone spaceport ship heads to its hold position in the Atlantic to prepare for a rocket landing pic.twitter.com/kXYHGVKTfE
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 5, 2015
Asked by one reddit fan how he was able to estimate a 50% probability of success for Tuesday’s landing, Musk answered, “I pretty much made that up. I have no idea.” He added a smiley face and explained, “The grid fins are super important for landing with precision. The aerodynamic forces are way too strong for the nitrogen thrusters. In particular, achieving pitch trim is hopeless. Our atmosphere is like molasses at Mach 4!”
A group of fans from the reddit SpaceX community asked about a planned SpaceX mission to Mars. They wanted to know what the Mars Colonial Transporter actually is? Is it a crew module like Dragon (a partially reusable spacecraft developed by SpaceX), a launch vehicle like Falcon, or a mix of both?
“The Mars transport system will be a completely new architecture,” Musk said. “Am hoping to present that towards the end of this year.” He added that it was a good thing they didn’t do it sooner because they have learned a “huge amount” from Falcon and Dragon.
He said the goal is to send 100 metric tons of useful payload to the surface of Mars. “This obviously requires a very big spaceship and booster system,” he said. “At first, I was thinking we would just scale up Falcon Heavy, but it looks like it probably makes more sense just to have a single monster boost stage.”
Musk told PJ Media’s Michelle Fields in 2013 that he thinks it will cost 1/2 million dollars for someone to relocate to Mars one day but said the price will include a “free return ticket.”
Asked how SpaceX plans to address the limitations of current spacesuit technology for humans enroute to and on the surface of Mars, Musk said, “Our spacesuit design is finally coming together and will also be unveiled later this year. We are putting a lot of effort into design esthetics, not just utility.” He said it’s difficult to achieve the balance of a spacesuit that both works well and also looks “like a 21st century spacesuit.”
Musk, who described himself in the AMA as the “CEO/CTO of a rocket company” also answered some personal questions. He told fans he usually gets six hours of sleep per night (he measured it on his phone) and said he likes French food, BBQ, and whiskey. His favorite plane is the SR-71 and he said he would have a hard time choosing his favorite video game. “I tend to like FPS with a story, like Bioshock, Fallout or Mass Effect, but was also a big fan of Civ and Warcraft,” he said. He also thrilled many of his fans by saying that he enjoys playing Kerbal Space Program.
Asked by an earnest fan what daily habit has the largest positive impact on his life, Musk simply replied, “Showering.”
He said the best teacher he ever had was his elementary school principal who was who was filling in for a math teacher who had quit. “We had to work like the house was on fire for the first half of the lesson and do extra homework, but then we got to hear stories of when he was a soldier in WWII,” Musk said. “If you didn’t do the work, you didn’t get to hear the stories. Everybody did the work.”
Musk was asked about his ability to learn and what advice he had for others about learning. “I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can,” he said. “They sell themselves short without trying.”
But he added one bit of advice: “It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
One fan asked for Musk’s advice on dealing with adversity. “There is a great quote by Churchill: ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going,'” he said.
You can watch the live webcast of the launch from NASA here on Tuesday at 6:20 a.m.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 6, 2015
UPDATE: Tuesday’s historic launch had to be scrubbed:
Need to investigate the upper stage Z actuator. Was behaving strangely. Next launch attempt on Friday at 5am.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 6, 2015