In September, at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk revealed a grand plan to visit and, eventually, populate Mars.
We are still far from figuring this out in detail, but the current plan is:
Send Dragon scouting missions, initially just to make sure we know how to land without adding a crater and then to figure out the best way to get water for the CH4/O2 Sabatier Reaction.
Heart of Gold spaceship flies to Mars loaded only with equipment to build the propellant plant.
First crewed mission with equipment to build rudimentary base and complete the propellant plant.
Try to double the number of flights with each Earth-Mars orbital rendezvous, which is every 26 months, until the city can grow by itself
In another answer, he explains that the industrial operations on Mars would largely take place underground, while the people would live on surface in glass/carbon-fiber domes (yes, exactly like every 1960s sci-fi illustration you’ve ever seen). The underground bits, he claims, would be dug out by tunneling droids.
Initially, glass panes with carbon fiber frames to build geodesic domes on the surface, plus a lot of miner/tunneling droids. With the latter, you can build out a huge amount of pressurized space for industrial operations and leave the glass domes for green living space.
Musk also talks a little about the multitude of references to SF classics in SpaceX’s naming schemes and designs. The ITS booster had to have 42 engines (42 is known as “the answer to life, universe and everything” in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) for “scientific and fictional reasons,” Musk claims.
The ITS spacecraft name, which is short for Interplanetary Transport System, will likely be changed in the future, as it “just isn’t working,” according to Musk. The name replaced the old one — Mars Colonial Transporter — when Musk revealed that the spacecraft would be able to carry humans beyond Mars.
By Musk’s own admission, practically none of what he laid out during the AMA session is set in stone at this stage. Perhaps the most revealing is Musk’s painfully honest answer to the question which technologies has the company mastered at this point:
“Not sure that we’ve really mastered anything yet. Maybe starting engines…,” he wrote.