The Elon Musk Mars Interview
October 1, 2014 3:53 PM   Subscribe

When Musk went to price the mission with US launch companies, he was told transport would cost $60-80 million. Reeling, he tried to buy a refurbished Russian intercontinental ballistic missile to do the job, but his dealer kept raising the price on him. Finally, he’d had enough. Instead of hunting around for a cheaper supplier, Musk founded his own rocket company. His friends thought he was crazy, and tried to intervene, but he would not be talked down. Musk identifies strongly as an engineer. That’s why he usually takes a title like chief technical officer at the companies he runs, in addition to chief executive officer. He had been reading stacks of books about rockets. He wanted to try building his own. The Elon Musk Mars Interview.
posted by Ghostride The Whip (100 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
"'Fuck Earth!’ Elon Musk said to me, laughing. ‘Who cares about Earth?’"

Maybe we wouldn't have to colonize Mars to "ensure that humanity has a future" if fewer people felt this way...
posted by Strass at 3:59 PM on October 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


But Musk does run an electric car company, so it isn't like he's done nothing to help the Earth. He may not be environmentalist of the year, but he's better than the average billionaire on green issues.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:02 PM on October 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yeah, it's great to be forward-thinking and all but let's maybe start by terraforming Terra.
posted by contraption at 4:03 PM on October 1, 2014


Elon Musk is now officially a Philip K. Dick character. In fact, I'm pretty sure he's a title character. Yeah, The Three Stigmata of Elon Musk. That's the the one.
posted by philip-random at 4:05 PM on October 1, 2014 [24 favorites]


Do you people even read beyond the fucking first sentence?
"Musk was laughing because he was joking: he cares a great deal about Earth."

Christ.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:06 PM on October 1, 2014 [73 favorites]


Elon Musk is now officially a Philip K. Dick character. In fact, I'm pretty sure he's a title character. Yeah, The Three Stigmata of Elon Musk. That's the the one.

That Mars would be colonized by megalomaniac billionaires, I found one of the sillier plot devices of Ken Macleod's Star Fraction series...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:08 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


@Kevin Street: My comment wasn't anger directed towards Musk at all – I think he's an extraordinary innovator and deserves accolade! It was more general than that.

@mr_robato: I did indeed read the full article. I'm just saying that if 'people,' in the general sense, cared more about our world, perhaps Musk wouldn't feel the need for humanity to flee the planet.
posted by Strass at 4:08 PM on October 1, 2014


"Musk was laughing because he was joking: he cares a great deal about Earth."

so did Palmer Eldritch ... until he went too far
posted by philip-random at 4:09 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Elon Musk is now officially a Philip K. Dick character. In fact, I'm pretty sure he's a title character. Yeah, The Three Stigmata of Elon Musk. That's the the one.
posted by philip-random at 7:05 PM on October 1 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by brand-gnu at 4:09 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


But Musk does run an electric car company, so it isn't like he's done nothing to help the Earth.

Being a smaller part of the problem isn't the same as being a part of the solution.
posted by klanawa at 4:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Elon Musk has taken what ought to be a crippling case of Engineer's Disease and used it to build a couple of multi-billion dollar companies.
posted by The Tensor at 4:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [26 favorites]


"Yeah, it's great to be forward-thinking and all but let's maybe start by terraforming Terra."

I have heard many times "why care about environmentalism when there are so many other planets out there?". But I don't see how turning Mars into a long term livable space for human beings could be cheaper than fixing what we are fucking up here and now...
posted by idiopath at 4:11 PM on October 1, 2014


If only he'd turn his gaze to the deep ocean we could finally have that SeaQuest DSV future we've all been waiting for.
posted by sobarel at 4:13 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am reasonably sure he's our first Lex Luthor-class supervillain. Or Bond villain. Interesting interview either way, which is why I posted it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:13 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Making Mars suitable for bacteria is totally feasible. That's about it.

The problem is that Earth has carrying capacity for humans that's independent of other humans. If there's a relatively small number of people, natural plant and animal supply will feed us. There is no natural plant and animal supply on Mars, meaning if anything goes wrong and there aren't other humans and their machines to feed us, it's not that most people die, it's that everyone dies.

The hostility of Mars to almost all the adaptations our genome (going back all the way through Animalia) has made to Earth life cannot be underestimated. We will colonize the ocean before we colonize Mars.
posted by effugas at 4:16 PM on October 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


There are catastrophic threats to Earth that can't be avoided while our species is confined to a single planet. Yes, we should take care of the environment, we should make sure that all people have the necessities of a good life. But, even after we do that, we still have a lot of eggs in one basket. Earth could still get smacked with an asteroid. A bad solar flare could disrupt vital infrastructure on a huge scale. Nuclear war or accidents could wipe out a lot of multicellular life on the surface.

Putting self-sustaining colonies on other planets is an insurance policy against such disasters. While you're at it you could also store backup DNA libraries to provide backup for Earth's incredible biodiversity.
posted by rustcrumb at 4:18 PM on October 1, 2014 [9 favorites]


"Musk was laughing because he was joking: he cares a great deal about Earth."

It would be easier to imagine this line if they had included a photo of Musk's 7 foot tall henchman with the titanium teeth dangling the author head first over the hearth of purity as Musk's mutant slaves chant rhythmically .
posted by ennui.bz at 4:19 PM on October 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


If only he'd turn his gaze to the deep ocean we could finally have that SeaQuest DSV future we've all been waiting for.

I fear we'll probably get more of a Sealab 2021 future instead.
posted by aubilenon at 4:21 PM on October 1, 2014 [18 favorites]


But I don't see how turning Mars into a long term livable space for human beings could be cheaper than fixing what we are fucking up here and now...

I reckon we oughta try to do both (well, I'm not sure about Mars per se, but). And, to be honest, I don't think the real problem is one of expense. If we really gave a damn and had the will and the slightly-longer-than-short-term view -- 'we' as a species, I guess -- there are multitudes of ways we could be finding the resources to focus on building a future rather than burning it all down.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:21 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


@Rustcrumb: Personally I feel that it's more worthwhile to spend time, effort, and money on combating environmental damage here on Earth because the chances that climate change will drive humanity extinct (or force us back into the pre-Industrial age) in the next 100 years is a lot more than an asteroid hitting us over 1,000 years.

But I do agree that extraplanetary colonization is the best assurance of survival vs an existential threat
posted by Strass at 4:23 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


stavrosthewonderchicken: as the destruction is primarily moved forward by economic activity, the reasons that it isn't reversed are, to the people in place to make the decisions, economic ones.

There is a price, even if just the opportunity cost of not exploiting a profitable resource, and that price is the deciding factor to the ones doing the damage, from the company drilling and shipping oil to the suburban family driving to the Wal-Mart (it's cheaper) to buy goods made of corn syrup and plastic. If the overall immediate cost (including opportunity cost) of sustainability were lower, it would be the action taken.
posted by idiopath at 4:26 PM on October 1, 2014


What does his brother, Jovan, think?

(Bad joke, I know. But I've been waiting to bring it up for awhile.)
posted by discopolo at 4:29 PM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Dammit, aubilenon, you beat me to the Sealab joke.
posted by daq at 4:34 PM on October 1, 2014


I thought this was a great profile, I was always on the fence about this guy but now I reckon I'm in his camp. If I had half a mil I would definitely go to Mars, I would be guaranteed to get a ravine or a gorge something named after me. Hopefully there would eventually be a big Space Marine/Chaos battle there, and they'd all have future-PTSD whenever my name popped up. The Slaughter at James' Gorge. Best legacy.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:39 PM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: as the destruction is primarily moved forward by economic activity, the reasons that it isn't reversed are, to the people in place to make the decisions, economic ones.

Of course. And it's a fool's game to think that's ever going to change, until and unless enough people (like Musk, I suppose, hopefully) can show that not only can a business venture that breaks the pattern work and be a long-term good, but that it can make everybody connected to it rich as Croesus in the short- to medium-term, because it's the short-term economic calculus that still drives the engines.

But the foundations we've built our modern civilization on and the systemic corruption in both political process and corporate power mean, I suspect, that the best case scenario is a series of catastrophes before structural change becomes conceivable. Whatever that might look like. More likely, I think in moments of pessimism, is that we'll just drive ourselves into the dirt while we fight over the scraps.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:42 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are a whole lot of industrial processing that is essential to post-agra-stone-cave living. Can we just go seriously high end NIMBY and get all that stuff that's bad for the environment away from the environment, like say on asteroids.

Let's keep the entire Earth a pristine preserve.

Right now getting off the planet is very expensive, once a bit of asteroid mining puts the cost of water and building materials cheaper than on the surface and a trip with just your cloths is in the price range that is personally affordable the value equation will change.
posted by sammyo at 5:00 PM on October 1, 2014


Even if we fix all the damage we've done to Earth it's still a fundamental single point of failure for the species. Mountain-sized rocks at orbital velocity don't give a crap about carbon neutrality. We need to colonize Mars, and Venus, asteroids, anything we can get our grubby mitts on.
posted by Skorgu at 5:02 PM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


Great article...not only is Musk a compelling figure, but I thought the writing itself was excellent.
posted by Edgewise at 5:03 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Elon Musk's Tesla Motors freely shares the patents to their electric cars so that others can use the technology, and Musk co-founded Solar City, which is putting affordable PV on rooftops at a phenomenal rate. He is doing more good, effective environmental work than most, and he is showing that renewable energy can be profitable. He wants to build a Mars rocket too? Great!
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:07 PM on October 1, 2014 [15 favorites]


We need to colonize Mars, and Venus, asteroids, anything we can get our grubby mitts on.

It's pretty stupid to spend all that energy to escape from the bottom of a gravity well, only to run to the bottom of another one.

Learn how to live in space. There's plenty of of it, it's pretty cheap and it's good first step to living on a planet.

The article was pretty good and Musk came off as more likable than I've ever seen before. but the obsession with Mars by him and others stilted romanticism. There's little to go there and stick around, it's just redder than the Moon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:09 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Having now actually read the article...

I suppose it's a good thing to have people thinking big... but, I read "thousands of people paying half a million bucks each to settle on Mars by 2040" and just think this is delusional. He compares it to the early American colonies, but people went there for all sorts of practical and financial reasons that don't make sense in this context. No-one's going to make it rich on Mars - there's no economy in which that makes sense. No-one's going to have more space or solitude - you'll be signing up to life cocooned in small rooms. No-one's going to discover new species or study the native cultures - Mars is a dead rock. No-one can decide they've made a horrible mistake and come home.

Maybe, I suppose, there'll be some new Puritans who'll get so fed up with the dreadful liberal freedoms here on Earth that they'll depart to found some sort of Martian religious dominion...

What I'm saying is that I don't know how the macro argument he's making (all the long-term ideology of preserving consciousness or whatever) converts into the micro decisions of individuals that this would be a good choice to make. If humans were good at that sort of reasoning we wouldn't be burning up all our irreplaceable resources like there's no tomorrow.
posted by sobarel at 5:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


It strikes me that Musk is another great example of the self made man myth. Both Tesla and SpaceX are utterly dependent on government funding for their success.
posted by Poldo at 5:11 PM on October 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


I have heard many times "why care about environmentalism when there are so many other planets out there?"

Really? Did you try pointing out to them that they obviously haven't devoted any serious thought to the issue?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:11 PM on October 1, 2014


Elon Musk might have the sort of Silicon Valley libertarianish captain of industry personality that is easily hatable, but his actions and opinions tend to be against the usual SV VC fluffy claptrap.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:12 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


I am reasonably sure he's our first Lex Luthor-class supervillain. Or Bond villain. Interesting interview either way, which is why I posted it.

Ahem.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:19 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


‘I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future.’

He's an old-fashioned robber baron. Having made his billions, he feels a duty to give back, like the old-timey steel magnates who built concert halls. It's an ideosyncratic, self-aggrandizing, aristocratic impulse, but it's downright refreshing compared to the current crop of kleptocrats who take and give nothing back.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:19 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Bond villain? Robber baron? Where are y'all getting this stuff? I'm not feeling it.
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:30 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


but, I read "thousands of people paying half a million bucks each to settle on Mars by 2040" and just think this is delusional.

Whereas a predatory lending company might see this as an exciting new frontier for high interest loans that you'd better pay back on time, lest the remote-disable button on your oxygen gets pressed...
posted by chimpsonfilm at 5:33 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


but, I read "thousands of people paying half a million bucks each to settle on Mars by 2040" and just think this is delusional.

If I could find it, via any means at all, I would pay half a million bucks to live on another planet. I would sell everything I own to do so. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this - end a lot of people CAN find that money if they liquidate their entire life (housing, etc). It's not for everyone, but a million people is only one in six thousand people.
posted by jaymzjulian at 5:39 PM on October 1, 2014


Well, part of my "delusional" was the idea we'll have interplanetary colonisation ships in a couple of decades.

But, for the other thing, maybe I'm wrong. What would be the appeal of it for you? (If you don't mind me asking.)
posted by sobarel at 5:49 PM on October 1, 2014


Convincing a million people that they want to go live on Mars seems like the easy part. The earth has no shortage of people, or of people with strange ideas. It's not nearly as difficult as reducing the travel cost by a couple orders of magnitude, building a giant fleet of space ships, re-inventing the entire industrial base in an environment where oxygen isn't free for the taking, designing and powering the equipment that will dig and make air-tight and habitable the thousands of miles of underground tunnels for people to live and work in, developing whatever agriculture and ecology is necessary to feed the colonists, and (if everything else goes well) working out how to keep the population from growing too fast in an environment where the consequences of that would be even more suddenly catastrophic than on our home planet.

I want to believe.
posted by sfenders at 5:56 PM on October 1, 2014


It's pretty stupid to spend all that energy to escape from the bottom of a gravity well, only to run to the bottom of another one.

Sure, but ∆v from Earth surface to low orbit is ~9400m/s, the same on Mars is ~3800m/s. And because Tsiolkovsky the corresponding rocket is a lot smaller.

I agree though, living in space is going to be required long-term.
posted by Skorgu at 6:00 PM on October 1, 2014


Oh, I was thinking about the horror of living, growing old and dying in a tin can on a desolate rock, but I suppose you could break it up with some time in airtight, windowless tunnels within the desolate rock too.
posted by sobarel at 6:00 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Bond villain? Robber baron? Where are y'all getting this stuff? I'm not feeling it.

He has a thin mouth and speaks with an accent. What more do you want?
:)
posted by anonymisc at 6:01 PM on October 1, 2014


Hah. I've said it before, I'll say it again: nobody should even consider Mars until we get a functioning colony on Antarctica going for at least one generation. I mean no shipments of outside food or energy or materials. Just a limited bunch of folks making their own vittles and equipment. No tapping out, no sudden replacements. Antarctica poses some, but not all, of the same challenges as Mars would to any colony.

And, please, let's stop pretending that we would get us a fraction of the technological advancements the Moon landing got us. Humanity could get as much, if not more, from trying to accomplish earthly goals, like making batteries of sufficient energy density, power density, and power cycles. Replacement organs.

And then people say, "We can do more than one thing at a time!" No, you really can't. A dollar gets spent once, one person-hour gets used once, and so on. Resources are finite. We're having a pretty tough time getting even some basic science funding done.

Humanity is nowhere near doing anything other than displays of dessicated corpses and ponderous hubris on Mars.
posted by adipocere at 6:02 PM on October 1, 2014 [20 favorites]


Oh, I was thinking about the horror of living, growing old and dying in a tin can on a desolate rock,

In a planet where you are just one of billions of people, and knowing that you will die, then breaking from all the other billions of people and doing your dying on Mars ranks pretty highly among the most spectacular historic achievements available to you.
posted by anonymisc at 6:04 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Geez we only have like, 56 billion person-hours... per day... to spend on our problems...
posted by rustcrumb at 6:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


People will remember the first person or two to step on Mars, but not Musk Colonist #7451. At what point does dying in an exotic locale stop being a spectacular achievement?
posted by sobarel at 6:15 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


until we get a functioning colony on Antarctica

Well I see emails and postings from folks living there pretty regularly, but you make a good point. The counter is that ol' necessity is a mother, and a lot of things that have to be made to work on Mars just do not have to when there's a plane available.

I do think that until there are resources available outside the gravity well (think captured asteroid) the traffic to the Moon or Mars will remain in the twosies or threesies. But once valuable resources are seen as obtainable, there will be a new gold rush. Much further away but incalculably more lucrative.
posted by sammyo at 6:20 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bond villain? Robber baron? Where are y'all getting this stuff? I'm not feeling it.

He's a rich man with big plans. My impressions is that lot of folks around here distrust and dislike wealthy people on general principle.

No-one's going to make it rich on Mars - there's no economy in which that makes sense.

C'mon, where's your vision? How about land rights, mineral rights, etc.? The comparison to the exploration of the new world is a good one; you don't find markets, you create them. The European explorers didn't come to the Americas to trade with the natives, nor did they to any significant degree. The first wave was looking for a shortcut to Asia. That never panned out, but there was plenty of money to be made, anyway. If we ever end up mining the rest of the solar system, you can bet that Mars will be an essential port of call.

Also, plenty of the colonists suffered great hardship, more than was ultimately worth it (for them), but that's not the point. The point is that people really do take risks for potential money and certain adventure. The issue for me is the $.5M price tag; people of means aren't usually the first ones to take these kinds of risks. But a lot of people would prefer to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.

And the whole thing about libertarian puritans...you think they are the only folks who want to build a new society from scratch? The line wraps around the building...

The upside: no natives to exploit and murder.

People will remember the first person or two to step on Mars, but not Musk Colonist #7451. At what point does dying in an exotic locale stop being a spectacular achievement?

When it stops being exotic (i.e. when it is colonized).
posted by Edgewise at 6:24 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a real challenge to any form of private sector colonization effort, in that the Outer Space Treaty appears legally to make Mars (and anywhere celestial body) public domain and (arguably) prohibited from economic exploitation even on a use-of-commons basis, to say the least of claim-of-right. A Martian colonization effort would need to be domiciled in a state which was not a party to, or which withdrew from, the treaty.
posted by MattD at 6:37 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


C'mon, where's your vision? How about land rights, mineral rights, etc.? The comparison to the exploration of the new world is a good one; you don't find markets, you create them. The European explorers didn't come to the Americas to trade with the natives, nor did they to any significant degree.

The New World had tobacco, gold and silver, furs, rich farmland, and lots of other resources that could be shipped back to Europe for profit. Mars doesn't have anything us Earthlings want, or that couldn't be more easily acquired from asteroid mining. What would an internal economy on Mars even look like?

And the whole thing about libertarian puritans...you think they are the only folks who want to build a new society from scratch? The line wraps around the building...

That was just a silly reference to the Pilgrim Fathers, nowt to do with libertarians.
posted by sobarel at 6:43 PM on October 1, 2014


Bruce Sterling covered this ten years ago: "I'll believe in settling Mars when I see people settling the Gobi Desert" (caveat: full interview is locked inside 'the well')
posted by bruceo at 6:50 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would suggest that we don't know what Mars has resource-wise. I think we can guess, but we don't know. Moreover, we don't know what we want. Yes, probably we want all the things we have on Earth that are in short supply, but that's because we're not there yet. We haven't dug around, melted things, seen what happens when you put them in water or just threw them in some oxygen.

It is an entirely different planet. It's further out with a thinner atmosphere. That means it has probably got more stuff from space, different stuff from space and whatever stuff that is actually native to Mars. Yes, some of that stuff may eat our faces, but then we've got something to kill and goddamn we love to kill stuff!
posted by BeReasonable at 6:53 PM on October 1, 2014


Anyway, if Babylon 5 has taught us nothing else - and it hasn't - it's that the Martians would only declare independence and embroil us in a disappointing season arc anyway.
posted by sobarel at 6:58 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, I was thinking about the horror of living, growing old and dying in a tin can on a desolate rock,

my Philip K. Dick Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch reference wasn't just gratuitous. I recommend it to anyone who views life on another planet through rose colored lenses -- certainly any of the ones we know about.

Hah. I've said it before, I'll say it again: nobody should even consider Mars until we get a functioning colony on Antarctica going for at least one generation. I mean no shipments of outside food or energy or materials. Just a limited bunch of folks making their own vittles and equipment. No tapping out, no sudden replacements.

This exactly. It ain't nine-headed, acid breathing dragons we'd find ourselves facing down. It would be ourselves ... in permanent isolation, no return possible.

But all that said, I will volunteer to DJ the trip to Mars. All this earthly gravity is getting my middle-aged bones down.
posted by philip-random at 7:02 PM on October 1, 2014


What would an internal economy on Mars even look like?

That would be up to the people of Mars to decide, I guess. It's at least theoretically possible that there could be one that was self-sustaining; they've got a bit of energy coming in as sunlight (though not as much as Earth), and even if they don't have fossil fuels or firewood, it's conceivable that they might find some local uranium or thorium for fuel. With sufficient useable energy there's no law of economics or physics that says they couldn't survive. Ten thousand years from now it seems like a real possibility.
posted by sfenders at 7:04 PM on October 1, 2014


I would suggest that we don't know what Mars has resource-wise. I think we can guess, but we don't know. Moreover, we don't know what we want.

*I* know I want food, air, water, HBO and strippers. Mars has none of that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:08 PM on October 1, 2014


A good gamma burst will sterilize the Earth AND Mars in one go, right?

There's no shortage of arguably-credible-and-more-or-less-immediate existential threats to our civilization. Threats that don't require that anything exotic happen, just that people continue to murder and exploit one another while trying to secure for themselves the equivalent of the really comfortable deck chairs on the Titanic. If we can't solve those problems we won't last long enough to have to deal with any of the other ones.

"But the sun's going to enter its Red Giant phase in just 500 million years... WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?!" I love the idea that humans are so resilient and resourceful that we'll have to answer that question someday. Unfortunately I don't for a moment believe it.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:12 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Mars doesn't have anything us Earthlings want, or that couldn't be more easily acquired from asteroid mining.

I don't even know where to begin with this. Mars has probably the two most important things of all: potentially arable land (even if out-in-the-sun-without-a-pressure-suit never pans out for humans) in a gravity well 1/3rd as strong as Earth's. Plus two conveniently small moons. You're basically looking at the future site of Constantinople AND Kansas and saying "that doesn't look like a great spot to try and build a colony."

Also, as Clarke pointed out in Fountains of Paradise, the difficulty of building an actual space elevator on Mars (and thereby reducing per-pound costs to escape a gravity well to pennies) is an order of magnitude less than the situation confronting us here on Earth.

TL;DR: Mars is potentially the most economical means, by far, of getting vast quantities of grown food out of a gravity well.
posted by Ryvar at 7:12 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Imagine being one of the first children born on Mars: growing up with this incredible dream of a world where you can go outside without a pressure suit, breathe fresh air, where there are rivers and oceans, ancient ruins, forests, birds and fish and whales... Imagine looking up at a blue sky...
posted by sobarel at 7:19 PM on October 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


There's no shortage of arguably-credible-and-more-or-less-immediate existential threats to our civilization.

That is why it will take thousands of years. Our current civilization may not have time to figure out how to make a living on Mars, but the next big one to arise might learn from our mistakes and have better luck.

If so, I imagine they will have fresh air, birds and fish, maybe even forests of a sort, and of course the ancient ruins of Elon Musk's landing site to explore.
posted by sfenders at 7:32 PM on October 1, 2014


Elon just wants to get there first so he can control the Mars magic and declare himself Emperor.
posted by Small Dollar at 7:46 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Imagine being one of the first children born on Mars: growing up with this incredible dream of a world where you can go outside without a pressure suit, breathe fresh air, where there are rivers and oceans, ancient ruins, forests, birds and fish and whales... Imagine looking up at a blue sky...

Reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke's short story (about a lunar colony) "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth...":
It was very quiet in the little cabin now that the motors had stopped. The only sound was the faint whisper of the oxygen feed and an occasional metallic crepitation as the outer walls of the vehicle radiated away their heat. For no warmth at all came from the great silver crescent that floated low above the far horizon and flooded all this land with pearly light. It was so brilliant that minutes passed before Marvin could accept its challenge and look steadfastly into its glare, but at last he could discern the outlines of continents, the hazy border of the atmosphere, and the white islands of cloud. And even at this distance, he could see the glitter of sunlight on the polar ice.

It was beautiful, and it called to his heart across the abyss of space. There in that shining crescent were all the wonders that he had never known—the hues of sunset skies, the moaning of the sea on pebbled shores, the patter of falling rain, the unhurried benison of snow. These and a thousand others should have been his rightful heritage, but he knew them only from the books and ancient records, and the thought filled him with the anguish of exile.
posted by Atom Eyes at 7:57 PM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Since we had the Lynn Ahrens post earlier, I'll just quote from her song "Elbow Room":

Now we've got a lot of room to be
Growing from sea to shining sea
Guess that we have got our elbow room (elbow room)
But if there should ever come a time
When we're crowded up together
I'm sure we'll find some elbow room . . . up on the moon!

posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:23 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


If we can't solve those problems we won't last long enough to have to deal with any of the other ones.

But but but Yellowstone Caldera supervolcano
posted by Apocryphon at 8:31 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


he knew them only from the books and ancient records, and the thought filled him with the anguish of exile.

We're peddling as fast as we can to get to that place.
posted by Twang at 8:34 PM on October 1, 2014


He had been reading stacks of books about rockets. He wanted to try building his own.

Musk and some or all of his sons attended XPRS, a gathering of rocketry hobbyists in the Black Rock Desert 3 weeks ago. I was there along with ~200 others. Musk was part of a large group with several adults and a bunch of kids. They had built small rockets with 3D-printed fin cans; the rockets were about 2 inches in diameter, 18 inches long, and were launched with G class motors to altitudes of around 2000 feet by my estimate.

They launched in fairly strong winds on Saturday afternoon and the kids' rockets all were carried pretty far away. I hopped on my ATV and rode downwind and found two rockets and brought them back to Musk. Having landed on the fairly hard desert floor, the fins had broken off.
posted by neuron at 8:35 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Many humans already suffer greatly in modern civilzation from a lack of exposure to sunlight and nature. Depression is widespread.

What kind of mental illnesses and struggle would result in not having any access at all to earth? We evolved here, and while we are very resilient I wonder if we could even thrive on other worlds (survive may be a different question I suppose.)

I could easily see a colony on a harsh planet resulting in near universal depression and unhappiness. Though, maybe that's not so different from much of humanity's history.
posted by imabanana at 10:42 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Elon Musk feels more like a Heinlein-juveniles backyard spaceship capitalist than a Dickian reality bender. At least that's how he's portrayed here. I'd need to see more evidence of lasers or volcanoes to really feel Bond villain.

Mars will have whatever government is desired by the people who control the resources. Most of the colonists will be indentured servants to those with the delta-v. A lifetime of student loans and credit card debt swapped for adventure!

You'll be paid in musk. Cubic, water and cycling is fifty musk a day. Lose your card, five hundred musk plus fees, so get yourself a fake and carry that. They don't care which ID long as you pay. You a wirehead? Good. The wire's a thousand a minute base plus options, so don't start. Don't bother with comprehensive on your suit, if it's worth the deductible you'll be dead. But do take the gap insurance on the financing. You don't want to be upside-down on the only thing between you and the rest of the universe.
posted by bigbigdog at 11:44 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I originally wondered if the business case behind the one-way-to-Mars project was that it was meant to be the ultimate reality TV show: put a thousand libertarians in a relentlessly hostile environment with no way back, and sell popcorn concessions.

Having thought about it a bit more I now think Musk is playing the long game with SpaceX: he's gambling on a bonanza of government funding for the massive interplanetary intervention and rescue mission that public opinion will demand once this turns into a mix of the Donner Party and the Pitcairn Islands.
posted by Major Clanger at 12:51 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


No-one's going to have more space or solitude - you'll be signing up to life cocooned in small rooms. No-one's going to discover new species or study the native cultures - Mars is a dead rock. No-one can decide they've made a horrible mistake and come home.

Just build in some nice futuristic suicide booths in the colony, no problem.
posted by thelonius at 2:18 AM on October 2, 2014


We need real humans to supervise the mining robots.
posted by fraxil at 4:04 AM on October 2, 2014


What kind of mental illnesses and struggle would result in not having any access at all to earth? We evolved here, and while we are very resilient I wonder if we could even thrive on other worlds (survive may be a different question I suppose.)

Some scientists had similar thoughts about spaceflight, predicting that people would go nuts or be depressed about losing contact with Earth. While living on Mars is different than orbiting the Earth, I'm guess the actual results will be similar. People who really want to go will find it exciting. Those who don't wont and will not sign up.

But Mars is distant dream, fantasy really. It really will be huge leap for humanity, people will be pretty much on their own in an environment that is hostile to human life in multiple ways.

Far better to build on the Moon first and work out some of the kinks.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:49 AM on October 2, 2014


Musk is right though. It means extinction to remain on earth indefinitely.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:42 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe we wouldn't have to colonize Mars to "ensure that humanity has a future" if fewer people felt this way...

Even if all of the Earth was a perfect place of happiness and love and no one ever did a bad thing, it would still be in danger of getting hit by an asteroid or a deadly gamma ray burst.

Going beyond the Earth is the only way humanity can continue to exist on millenial time scales.
posted by ymgve at 5:45 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Going beyond the Earth is the only way humanity can continue to exist on millenial time scales.

I do not disagree with this. However, Mars, now is a bit like asking about self-driving cars when you have yet to invent transistors or internal combustion engines. You can't just decide it is time for a Great Leap Forward to land on another planet and expect your hop to end with anything but a full faceplant. A long, very long series of technologies must be developed, tested, and refined before we are ready to consider Mars. Hence the Antarctica bit. Right now, we can't even get a Biosphere 3 in place.

Until then, we're in a meeting room talking about a controlled burn we want to do in a National Forest about five years from now while the building we are in is burning down around us.
posted by adipocere at 6:40 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


You can't just decide it is time for a Great Leap Forward to land on another planet and expect your hop to end with anything but a full faceplant. A long, very long series of technologies must be developed, tested, and refined before we are ready to consider Mars.

I have a feeling you would be writing exactly this same comment in 1960 about going to the Moon.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:49 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Musk is right though. It means extinction to remain on earth indefinitely.

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:40 AM on October 2, 2014


I have a feeling you would be writing exactly this same comment in 1960 about going to the Moon.

Yes, our glorious moon colonists laugh at your pessimism!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:02 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I have a feeling you would be writing exactly this same comment in 1960 about going to the Moon.

To be fair, a long, very long series of technologies (and techniques) had to be developed, tested, and refined before we were ready to land on the Moon. Hell, Apollo 10 practiced the moon landing exactly, up to 50,000 above the chosen landing site for Apollo 11, just so we'd have as much knowledge and information as we could before trying it for real. And that was only three days way!

For Mars, we're going to have to do some radical engineering, testing and development to land on a target six-eight months way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 AM on October 2, 2014


MAAARRRSSS FOOOREVER
posted by indubitable at 8:47 AM on October 2, 2014


Yes, our glorious moon colonists laugh at your pessimism!

The lack of colonies on the Moon wasn't due to technical challenges, but political ones. The impetus for space exploration in general died out in the 70s and floundered after the end of the Cold War.

To be fair, a long, very long series of technologies (and techniques) had to be developed, tested, and refined before we were ready to land on the Moon. Hell, Apollo 10 practiced the moon landing exactly, up to 50,000 above the chosen landing site for Apollo 11, just so we'd have as much knowledge and information as we could before trying it for real. And that was only three days way!

And yet it was done, and in a relatively short time.

The point is adipocere is arguing that the technological challenges are simply insurmountably vast, when they aren't. They're hard, but as always it's more a question of will than ability.

If we wanted to go to Mars like we wanted to go to the Moon in the 60s, and put that kind of research, money, and resources behind it, it would be done.

The only real question is do we want to go there, not can we.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:04 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


And yet it was done, and in a relatively short time.

1. With essentially a blank check. Good luck getting that again. 2. Comparing going to the Moon with going to Mars doesn't work, because of the vast differences in time, distance and expense.

The only real question is do we want to go there, not can we.

Well, we can't because we don't want to (at this point at least), because there's little justified reason in doing so.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:11 AM on October 2, 2014


Well, we can't because we don't want to (at this point at least), because there's little justified reason in doing so.

Yes, I think that's the fundamental difference, as we see in this thread. There are people who feel that space exploration and expansion is an end unto itself and doesn't need justification, and there are those who demand some kind of quantified ROI. To me it's just self-evident that exploration and growth is what humanity does, and should be doing.

The objections about cost and difficulty seem both silly and misdirected. The problem people say we should focus on instead are systemic: climate change, poverty, hunger. They require systemic responses, and Musk or any single rich person's money isn't going to solve or change them, or even the budget of NASA or governmental space agency. It's the classic mistake (or libertarian trick) of blaming individuals for system-level problems.

Further, if we do need to have those dollars and resources, it's bizarre to demand that they come from space endeavors instead of cutting money going to actually evil things like military spending.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:25 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, I think that's the fundamental difference, as we see in this thread. There are people who feel that space exploration and expansion is an end unto itself and doesn't need justification, and there are those who demand some kind of quantified ROI. To me it's just self-evident that exploration and growth is what humanity does, and should be doing.

You don't write the checks. There is no political impetus, nor is there an economic impetus. Musk isn't even talking about funding it on his own. He's asking people to spend $500,000 on never seeing anyone or anything they know or care about ever again. Some people in this thread say, "Great! Sign me up!" They don't have half a million dollars. Will any sizable number of people who do have half a million dollars be willing to give everything up on a one-way gamble to win...what, exactly? Pioneers went west for a new start, a chance at making a life. People with $500,000 to spend by and largely already have pretty good lives!

I see space exploration and scientific endeavor in general as in intrinsic good, too. I also don't write the checks.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:35 AM on October 2, 2014


Musk is right though. It means extinction to remain on earth indefinitely.

It's extinction to remain in the solar system indefinitely, but I suspect that the human race will just plain die out before the sun turning into a red giant becomes a problem.

I'm a big ol' nerd and I love the idea of colonizing Mars, because it's cool. I don't see it being real, however, without large scale terraforming and if we have the skills to do that then I'd rather we focused on fixing up the Earth first. Before trying to survive on Mars, let's prove we can survive here.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:39 AM on October 2, 2014


The last time anyone left low-Earth orbit was 42 years ago. If we don't get our act together soon, an entire generation will passed away having never known space flight. A lot of my peers don't even believe we ever landed on the moon. No one grows up wanting to be an astronaut anymore. Elon Musk is trying to change that. I think that's awesome.
posted by domo at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm a big ol' nerd and I love the idea of colonizing Mars, because it's cool. I don't see it being real, however, without large scale terraforming and if we have the skills to do that then I'd rather we focused on fixing up the Earth first. Before trying to survive on Mars, let's prove we can survive here.

Alternatively, surviving on Mars would require development of skills and technologies that would help us live sustainably on Earth.
posted by aubilenon at 11:22 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


A lot of my peers don't even believe we ever landed on the moon.

Do you believe watching it on TV would change that?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:47 AM on October 2, 2014


Yeah, I do. Because it wouldn't just be the footage. There'd be media speculation, stories run on the background of the flight, interviews with the families. Sure, conspiracy theorists would doubt, but with the massive flood of information the majority would be convinced and inspired.
posted by domo at 1:17 PM on October 2, 2014


No one grows up wanting to be an astronaut anymore.

I think you're flat out wrong here.

1.) NASA has never, ever lacked for candidates in terms of people officially applying to be an astronaut.

2.) Many of those astronauts didn't grow up specifically wanting to be an astronaut, but came to the idea as when they realized they had the qualifications.

3.) People gathered in Times square at 1am on a Sunday morning to watch a robot land on Mars. The kid's are alright, because it's extremely doubtful that the people there who weren't kids don't sing the praises of space travel to kids they know.

A lot of my peers don't even believe we ever landed on the moon.

Is it that they don't believe or don't care?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is it that they don't believe or don't care?

Good question! If it's the former, I just have a hard time understanding that. Surely there were interviews with the families at the time. Media speculation on what? To just flat out not believe that something so historic happened because it happened a few decades ago would be just astonishing.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:15 PM on October 2, 2014


I've said before, I think Musk is an Andrew Carnegie/JD Rockefeller/Cornelius Vanderbilt-style industrialist. He has an amazing vision of how technology and industry can revolutionize society and change the world. He's probably a combination of a robber baron and a visionary, like so many of them were, but he's not just a paper-pushing, share-price-chasing CEO like so many today; he is a god-damned industrialist who will change the world.

"Reeling, he tried to buy a refurbished Russian intercontinental ballistic missile to do the job, but his dealer kept raising the price on him. "

I have this problem with my ICBM suppliers all the time.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:45 PM on October 2, 2014


Everyone has that problem with their ICBM suppliers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:55 PM on October 2, 2014


I'm seriously confused at how he is in anyway a robber baron.
posted by I-baLL at 8:17 PM on October 2, 2014


he keeps getting richer
posted by philip-random at 11:07 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe i'm just getting old and cynical or something, but i'd be a lot more excited if he announced that spacex was becoming an asteroid mining company.
posted by emptythought at 3:48 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm just concerned about the viability of "Musk U" as a name for the inevitable space college he founds.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:05 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I hope it's Elon Acadamy, and people start calling it Elon Alpha, cause that sounds awesome.

As to my peers, there is a weird intersection of infowars bs tied to good old southern republicanism. I live in New Orleans, and the people who commute to work here but don't live in the city generally seem to be very hard right sorts of folks. I guess it is to differentiate themselves from us liberal heathens who choose to live in the den of sin that is Orleans Parish.
posted by domo at 6:38 AM on October 6, 2014


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