Space X and Tesla founder Elon Musk has a vision for colonising Mars, based on a big rocket, nuclear explosions and an infrastructure to transport millions of people there. This was seen as highly ambitious but technically challenging in several ways. Planetary protection rules and the difficulties of terraforming (making the planet hospitable by, for example, warming it up) and dealing with the harsh radiation were quoted as severe obstacles.
Undeterred, Musk took a first step towards his aim in February this year with the launch of a Tesla roadster car into an orbit travelling beyond Mars on the first Falcon Heavy rocket. This dramatically illustrated the increasing launch capability for future missions made available by partnerships between commercial and government agencies.
But six months later, the plans have started to look more like fantasy. We have since learned that there could be life beneath Mars’ surface and that it may be impossible to terraform its surface.