You make it seem as if Musk and SpaceX are a bunch of Scientologists Official Nasa SpaceX Snoopy Charlie Brown La Vie shirt and they just told Zubrin about Lord Xenu. It is likely Zubrin made some valued inputs to the plan. Personally, I think the only reason it was a problem is the upfront costs were too difficult. SpaceX has plenty of prospects for revenue from having efficient highly reusable launchers. Getting from today where they have proven they can do reuse to the point of a full 2016 ITS was beyond self-funding up front. They need the money now, not just the business case later.
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There is nothing like Scientology at work here. I recently watched a video from 2012, where Zubrin introduced Musk, and Musk went on at length about attempting to prove that success was a possible outcome. It is clear that both these people approach the problems of Mars colonization like a physics problem: Can one develop a mathematically accurate statement that shows this is possible? Finally, Musk alone asks, “How can we make it economically viable?” I think there are still major questions around the difficulty of Official Nasa SpaceX Snoopy Charlie Brown La Vie shirt. The ITS concept completely hinges on it being doable with reasonable effort, and there’s no way any humans go to Mars on a BFS until at least one uncrewed BFS has completed the round trip successfully.
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Worst case scenario, ISRU doesn’t work out for decades and the ITS concept is dead in the water. That’s why we need to do the experiments. The first place it lands might not be as good for ISRU as some others. Red Dragon was supposed to prospect for good Official Nasa SpaceX Snoopy Charlie Brown La Vie shirt sites, Why would you insist that the entire system be proven? We never did that for the moon before sending people. And frankly, it’s worth killing a few people to expedite Mars colonization. SpaceX has a bit of a chicken or egg problem with sending the first ship. This means we get the maximum amount of payload to Mars for a given sized vehicle. I think it is very clear that there are many possible architectures and permutations. The point is that Musk’s original ITS was unworkable because of the economy. And that is the main flaw of the original ITS.