Elon Musk has been labeled as somewhat of a real-life Tony Stark. He's founded future-facing companies like Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and seems genuinely dedicated to help humanity with advanced technology. Now, he's set his eyes on Mars, and he's thinking big.
In an interview with Aeon, Musk laid out his plan. "I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary," he says. "In order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen, in which case being poor or having a disease would be irrelevant, because humanity would be extinct."
It's a radical perspective, to be sure, but Elon's far from the only flag-bearer for this kind of thinking. Famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has said that humanity would likely not survive without "escaping beyond our fragile planet." So far as we know Earth is the only place that harbors life. These thinkers argue that it's so precious that we essentially have an obligation to leave Earth to try and protect it.
Unfortunately, Space Travel is still unreasonably expensive. To put an average person into orbit costs more than $1 million, to say nothing of actually getting them to another planet. But Musk thinks that by the time the 2030s roll around and we've had some more time to develop the technology, we'll be able to get people to the Red Planet for about $500,000. That timeline is particularly convenient because Earth and Mars will be relatively close. The planets will also be close by four years from now, but that's a bit too soon, he says.
"There needs to be an intersection of the set of people who wish to go, and the set of people who can afford to go, and that intersection of sets has to be enough to establish a self-sustaining civilization… But it's not going to be a vacation jaunt. It's going to be saving up all your money and selling all your stuff, like when people moved to the early American colonies."
The end result, at least in Musk's eyes, will be a colony that could be completely self-sustained. With hundreds of thousands, or even a million people, creating a fully-functional city on Mars would be a lot easier and a lot faster than sending a constant trickle of fresh laborers, explorers, and scientists. There's still many challenges left, of course, but he argues that this is absolutely necessary.
"Not everyone loves humanity. Either explicitly or implicitly, some people seem to think that humans are a blight on the Earth's surface. They say things like, 'Nature is so wonderful; things are always better in the countryside where there are no people around.' They imply that humanity and civilisation are less good than their absence. But I'm not in that school. I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future."
If you're at all interested in space travel, I highly recommend the full interview over on Aeon. In my own optimism I'm admittedly a little biased for these sorts of big ideas and grandiose projects, but it's amazing to see those with the resources attempt to build these dreams. And with some of the progress we've seen in private space flight the past few years, maybe Civilization: Beyond Earth isn't as far off as we thought.
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