Dr Robert Zubrin talks Humans to Mars and Space-X Starship"
YouTube (January 9, 2021)

[video lasts till 1:08:20]

[0:33] Dr Robert Zubrin: "A 25th-Anniversary Edition [of The Case for Mars] is coming out next month"

Interviewer: "Does that mean you have been updating it with more recent information?

Dr Robert Zubrin:"There was a very substantial update in 2011 and there are some updates in this edition as well."

Interviewer: "You actually went to Boca Chica, I saw that in February. You were over there and even spoke with Elon Musk. And you saw what was happening. And even then it seems like it was the early Starship development because they've been doing a lot of stuff since then, right?"

Dr Robert Zubrin: "Well, certainly. but what was going on in Boca Chica was extraordinary. They weren't just building a ship. They were building a shipyard. And Elon's vision -- is to produce them one a day -- but right now they are, in fact, producing them at almost one a month. And I think that before long they will be producing them at a rate of one a week. When I was there, there were about 300 people employed on the site but they had a line outside the headquarters building with people signing up for jobs and Elon told me that a year from then, which will be this February, they will have about 3,000, ten times that number. So I presume they're close to that number now. And they're working away. And the plan is Build - Fly - Crash - Find out what went wrong - Fix it. Launch another one. Until they get it right. This thing is remarkable.

[2:31] "The concept was laid out in 2016 in his talk in guadalajara. Obviously, he was thinking about it somewhat before then. But if we date the program to that time, between then and 2019, they flew the Starhopper. So that's three years to the first flight of a prototype. And another year later they flew up into the stratosphere with a more realistic prototype. And I think we're looking at SN [Serial Number] 9 probably flying this month."

[NOTE: Starship SN15 successfully flew the 5th test flight on May 5, 2021]"

[3:09] "... and I think there is a good chance they'll get it right this time, but if not, I'm sure they'll have it righ by number 10. And if you compare that to, say the SLS program, which was a much less revolutionary vehicle."

[3:27] “In fact, I was actually on the team that did the preliminary design of what is now called SLS at Lockheed-Martin, or as it was actually called then, Martin-Marietta in 1988. And we did not think this was a revolutionary vehicle or a particularly innovative one. Quite the contrary. It was saying, if we want to use the existing Shuttle technology, how can we put it together to make a heavy-lift vehicle. The idea was not to design the best vehicle, but to design the one that could be available the soonest. Clearly, looking at it from 1988, we should be able to have this flying by 1994 or so, because it is just the Shuttle without the orbiter.

Well, it’s been 32 years and it still hasn’t flown. Not even a test flight. So, if we compare Musk’s methodology to that of the people running that program, I mean, there’s just no comparison. Actually, the SLS program is ridiculous by existing NASA standards. You know, in Apollo, the Saturn V which was a revolutionary vehicle in its day. They signed the contract in 1962. They flew it in ‘67. And even the Shuttle only took 10 years to develop. And SLS is just the Shuttle without the orbiter.

[5:05] Now, here’s Musk coming along with a very revolutionary vehicle. And it’s going to take a bit longer than he projects. Musk tends to be optimistic in his forecasts. I think everybody knows that. But, nevertheless, he announced the program in 2016, and I’m sure it will be flying in 2022. Six years. Revolutionary vehicle.”

. . . [5:50] His mission architecture is the right one. Use the resources of Mars – or, rather – turn the materials on Mars into resources. This was the basis of the Mars-Direct plan. Why go to Mars? Because it has the materials to support life. Well, if used intelligently, the same materials that can support life can support technology. Don’t try to send gigantic mother ships into Mars orbit and land little landing parties and little landing crafts. Go to the surface and make your return propellant there and come back direct.

[6:31] Now, Starship, if you think of it as an exploration vehicle, his architecture is sub-optimal and having to refuel a whole big Starship on Mars to send it back. I think they should develop a miniature Starship sized to be about the upper stage of the Falcon 9 for the return vehicle. But if we’re talking colonization and you’re sending lots of Starships to Mars and probably just sending back one- in- ten, because with colonization, you want to be sending a lot of people to Mars and only the pilots and a few other people want to come back. So if you have a Starship on Mars, leave it there. Especially if you are mass-producing them on Earth, that’s an apartment house on Mars. And the propulsive parts of it are, you know, a hundred tons of high-grade stainless steel, which can be turned into almost anything using 3D-printing, so you have all sorts of raw materials to make anything you want on Mars, available straight away. Eventually, of course, we’ll make iron and steel out of Martian iron ore. But to produce high-grade stainless steel, you know, it took awhile before people were able to do that on earth. And to just have a handy supply of it, starting from the very first mission, it’s certainly attractive.”

. . . [Questioner]: I really get the sense that Elon Musk understands the time is going by and he really wants to see things done faster. And he also became the richest guy in the world, which is kind of like another kind of story.

[8:42] Robert Zubrin: “Well, sure. Musk is very outspoken and sometimes says things that are ill-considered. And so, while genius is very frequently a term which is attached to Musk, Wisdom seldom is. But I believe there is one sense in which Elon Musk is very wise, certainly in comparison to Jeff Bezos. Very wise. Which is [that] The core of wisdom is understanding that you’re not going to live forever. And Bezos was under the hallucination that because he had unlimited wealth, the has unlimited time. And none of us have unlimited time. Whereas Musk understands that he has limited time. And so he is driven. He is doing this thing as if he knew he was going to die next year. As Mark Twain said: ‘Nothing so concentrates the mind as the knowledge you’re going to be shot in the morning.’ Well, in one sense or another, we’re all going to be shot in the morning. And it’s a question of what you do while you’re still around. And Musk is really trying to do something important while he’s still here” [emphasis added]

. . . [10:33] The Starship is going to be exercised a great deal as an earth to orbit vehicle before it ever goes to Mars and, you know, re-entering Earth from low earth orbit, you have an entry velocity of 8 kilometers per second. Re-entering Mars from orbit is 4 kilometers per second and if you do it directly from the earth to Mars transfer, it’s going to be about six and a half kilometers per second, which is still a routine earth orbital entry from LEO. So, in fact, if they can enter earth’s atmosphere from LEO and land with a Starship, they can certainly do it on Mars. And not just from orbit but from direct interplanetary transfer without the need to capture into orbit.”

. . .

[11:51] NASA put up a fuss with ‘There’s no way to land something heavy on Mars,’ recoiling from the challenge of making a bigger parachute. And here’s Musk saying, ‘Hey, I can land a hundred-ton object on Mars without any parachute.’ And it will be rather well demonstrated. … and if you’re producing these things at a rate of even one a month, you can afford to launch one to Mars, and fail, and say, ‘Well, that went wrong. Now we know what we have to do. We’ll do it again. And again . . .

[NOTE: At two year intervals – per test -- between orbit transfer windows between Earth and Mars?!]

“Falcon 1 failed three times before it succeeded. Falcon 9, I believe, succeeded on its first launch, if I remember correctly, but the landing part of Falcon 9 failed five times before they got it right. But they just kept doing it instead of sitting there analyzing this thing for decades without the guts to try. And that’s what Space-X has got. The guts to try. And that makes all the difference.”

. . . [13:35] “I believe they well land people on Mars by the end of the decade. I think by the end of the first term of Joe Biden, Starships will be flying regularly to earth orbit. And you’re talking about a launch vehicle with, you know, the payload capacity about equal to a Saturn V but perhaps one percent as expensive because it’s reusable.”

[14:09] I don’t know if Biden’s going to run again. And maybe you’ll get Kamala Harris. And maybe the Republicans will come up with a good candidate in 2024. Who knows? Maybe there will be a new party. I’m hoping there will be at this point. But whoever is elected president in 2024, with starships flying to orbit by that time, is going to look at his or her advisors and say ‘Look, could we have people on Mars by the end of my second term.’ And the answer is going to be absolutely’Yes.’ And will it cost hundreds of billions of dollars?’ ‘No.’ ‘How much?’ ‘Well, we could probably do it within NASA’s existing budget.’ ‘Well, then, why don’t we do it?’ And I think that Musk, by making that a reasonable prospect, by making it feasible, will make it sell-able.”

[15:11] There are a number of other systems which need to be developed in addition to the transportation system to do Mars exploration. For instance, surface nuclear reactors would be very difficult for Space-X to develop because the involve controlled materials. So by saying, Look, we’ve done the big part. You do all the little stuff. Let’s get together and do this. It’s going to happen. Musk is going to set the agenda by presenting NASA with the appropriate technology.”

. . . [ more transcript as time permits] . . .

[20:12] “The good life is not having a lot of yachts and fancy clothes. The good life is doing great deeds. And I think that Musk understands that and feels it more emphatically.”

[30:18 [about the use of Stainless steel as the material for the Starship: “When you get it to Mars you can rework it.”

[54:42] “We don’t have to have a Moon base in order to go to Mars. That’s fiction. And it’s a harmful fiction if it is used to delay going to Mars or to impose a requirement on Mars missions that they use the Moon base in order to make it appear necessary for the Mars mission. They are separate objectives. For us to become a space faring species we’ll have to do all sorts of things in space. We’ll have gigantic space telescopes with enormous discoveries about physics and the origin of the universe. We don’t have to do that tomorrow, but if we’re the kind of people who can go to Mars, then we’re the kind of people who can do that [other thing].

[57:10] “… bring dead planets to life.”

. . . [more transcription as time allows] . . .