Space & Innovation

SpaceX: Mars Mission 'Insurance' Against Disaster

SpaceX thinks humanity needs to reach Mars to survive.

SpaceX thinks humanity needs to reach Mars to survive.

Manned exploration and the eventual colonization of Mars would not only be a marvel of human achievement, it would also serve as a sort of insurance in case disaster strikes on Earth, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told a small crowd here Wednesday (June 4).

"Exploration is really what separates humans from other living species," Shotwell said during an Atlantic Council Captains of Industry discussion. "If we decide that where we are today is 'it,' that seems like a big disappointment."

NEWS: SpaceX Passenger Dragon Spaceship Debuts

SpaceX - which was founded in 2002 by billionaire Elon Musk - didn't talk about Mars in its early days, Shotwell told reporters, policymakers and members of industry. But the company has since demonstrated its "technical chops" with multiple successful launches to orbit. [Mars Sample-Return Idea with SpaceX's Dragon (Images)]

Why go to Mars?

If humans decided to stop exploring, saying, "This is it, we're done," that's not very inspirational, Shotwell said.

But exploration isn't the only reason to visit the Earth's rouge neighbor. Creating a settlement on Mars also constitutes "risk management" for the human race, Shotwell said.

NEWS: SpaceX Falcon Rocket Flies Itself Back to Earth

"The probability of a significant event happening on Earth is very high," Shotwell said. Though she said she doesn't know when it might happen, "it would be nice to have humans living in more than one spot."

To Orbit and Beyond By all appearances, SpaceX has been a force in the business of launching rockets into orbit. The company has made nine out of nine successful launches of its Falcon 9 rocket, which has carried its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station on multiple occasions.

The company has recently tested its reusable rockets. SpaceX completed a successful rocket test on April 18 in which it launched a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket from Florida, and landed the first stage vertically on a target in the Atlantic Ocean.

On May 29, the company unveiled its manned Dragon V2 spaceship, which would serve as a kind of space taxi to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

NEWS: Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder

The company is also developing a massive launch vehicle, the Falcon Heavy, which would be the most powerful U.S. rocket to launch since the Saturn V. "Hopefully we will launch [the Falcon Heavy] in the first half of next year," Shotwell told Space.com.

SpaceX has not yet developed the capability of exploring beyond the Earth's orbit. But Elon Musk, the company's billionaire CEO, has expressed ambitions for reaching the Red Planet, and claims the company has made progress toward establishing a colony there.

During the International Space Development Conference last month, Musk said that "the reason SpaceX was created was to accelerate development of rocket technology, all for the goal of establishing a self-sustaining, permanent base on Mars."

More from SPACE.com:

SpaceX's Quest For Rocketry's Holy Grail - SPACE.com Exclusive Video The Rockets and Spaceships of SpaceX (Photos)

SpaceX's Innovative Reusable Rocket Soars to 3,300 Feet and Lands Safely (Video)

Original article on Space.com. Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

SpaceX's manned Dragon spacecraft could make a human colony on Mars possible as shown in this still image from a SpaceX video. The private spaceflight company has targeted manned Mars exploration as a long-range goal.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on March 1, 2013. The launch was the second SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA. After delivering its bounty of fresh food, supplies and experiments to the orbiting outpost, the Dragon capsule completed its mission when it splashed down off the Baja California coast on March 26, 2013. Here's a photo diary of some of the Dragon's voyage to low-Earth orbit and back.

A view of the approching SpaceX Dragon capsule over a backdrop of Earth before the spacecraft berthed with the station on March 3, 2013.

A view of the approching SpaceX Dragon capsule over a backdrop of Earth before the spacecraft berthed with the station on March 3, 2013.

The space station's robotic arm reaches out to grab the approaching SpaceX Dragon capsule that is loaded with fresh food and other cargo for the orbiting outpost's crew.

A close-up shot of the SpaceX Dragon's berthing point that the space station's robotic arm uses as an attachment to pull the spacecraft in.

The space station's robotic arm guides the SpaceX Dragon capsule during berthing operations on March 3, 2013.

A photo out of a cupola window of the SpaceX Dragon being berthed by the space station's robotic arm shortly after capture on March 3, 2013.

The space station's robotic arm slowly inches the SpaceX Dragon capsule closer to the orbiting outpost's Unity module.

The docked SpaceX Dragon capsule hangs above the Earth shortly after berthing operations.

A view of the SpaceX Dragon capsule attached to the space station's Unity module.

A photo out of a cupola window of the docked SpaceX Dragon and Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Inside the International Space Station's Cupola, Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn assists fellow crew members during capture and docking operations.

Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford looks up toward the arriving SpaceX Dragon spacecraft during capture and docking operations.

Inside the International Space Station's Cupola, Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn assists fellow crew members (out of frame) during capture and docking operations with the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on March 3, 2013.

Fresh fruit, along with other food and supplies, arrived aboard the unmanned spacecraft on March 3, 2013. Here, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield eats some of the produce.

From foreground to aft, Expedition 34 Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn of NASA and Roman Romanenko and Evgeny Tarelkin of Roscosmos can't hide their delight over the arrival of fresh food and supplies that were delivered by the SpaceX Dragon.

Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency juggles some tomatoes that were delivered by the SpaceX Dragon capsule on March 3, 2013.

NASA TV screengrab of the space station's robotic arm releasing the SpaceX Dragon capsule before reentry on March 26, 2013.

Artist's impression of the SpaceX Dragon capsule reentering the Earth's atmosphere.

The Dragon's three parachutes are spotted by SpaceX recovery ships shortly before splashdown on March 26, 2013.