With a net worth over twelve billion dollars, Elon Musk is one of the wealthiest men in the country. So, is his plight to send us to Mars legitimate or the most expensive midlife crisis ever? Recently, I was speaking to one of my passengers at work who needed a ride home after having too much to drink. Somehow, the conversation turned to the Mars miniseries and a long discussion ensued. Both of us are pretty average everyday people and will admit to being far from experts on anything Martian. In fact, I would say that I don’t honestly consider myself a master of anything. Could we go to Mars? Could we live there? Or is Elon Musk just a man with too much time and money on his hands? Is Mars Elon Musk’s quixotic windmill?
As it turns out, Elon Musk isn’t crazy. Since the dawn of time, humans have been fascinated by what lies in space. Are there aliens? What’s out there? In the sixties, the Space Race between the United States and Soviet Union heated up. Astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn – who were the first to land on the moon – came home celebrated as national heroes. From homeland security to communications to the weather, satellites are everywhere and impact us more than we can imagine. We also have the International Space Station and have explored a fair amount of the solar system. However, we haven’t had a massive triumph since the moon landing in many ways. We haven’t touched down on any new planets or ventured into any unknown territories in a while.
The Mars series on National Geographic channel did a beautiful job illustrating what a Mars mission could realistically look like. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it takes place in the year 2033 where we attempt to colonize Mars. There are many notable interviews and features about what is being done to prepare for a Mars mission, including from Mr. Mars himself, Elon Musk. While the six-part series is excellent, it’s also incredibly realistic.
According to Musk, the goal is to reduce the risk of human extinction and make human civilization interplanetary.
However, Musk is not the only one. NASA is also training astronauts for a Mars mission and has plans to build igloos to sustain life on Mars. Both Musk and NASA are aiming to reach the red planet by the 2030s. The concept is considered the “Mars ice home” and is basically an inner tube inflated with ice. However, the two biggest challenges seem to be the radiation on Mars and frequent dust storms. Along with Mars, NASA is developing the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which would redirect any asteroids coming towards earth.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the privatization of space travel could speed up the process. Unlike NASA, Spacex makes rockets for a fraction of the cost and could soon send astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station in a significantly more cost effective than NASA. Another unique feature is that SpaceX rockets would be reusable. Many, like Musk, also feel that Mars could be “terraformed.” In layman’s terms, this means making Mars like Earth with water and the ability to sustain life.
Musk estimates that a ticket to Mars will eventually cost about $200,000. He also thinks that it would take between forty and a hundred years to establish a colony on Mars. On top of that, it could open up other possibilities such as overpopulation on Earth, asteroid mining, and the existence of the human race. On top of that, Spacex would create a plethora of jobs. Like any job deemed hazardous, SpaceX would probably offer a lot of perks that would be hard to pass up.
However, there are some issues. First, going to Mars will be astronomically expensive. Other issues are whether the hundred or so people on board the ship will be able to tolerate each other and how air and water will be recycled. Another issue to consider is that the average person couldn’t afford a ticket to Mars. Few of us have $200,000 lying around and, even among those that do, few would be willing to hand it over for a ticket to Mars.
Another issue to consider will be the ethics of privatized space exploration. A privatized company has fewer ethical obligations to do the right thing (although one could easily argue the same about most government agencies). While many of Musk’s companies are aimed at saving humanity, would others follow suit?
Since we already have rovers on Mars, humans seem to be the most logical step. However, one thing seems fairly certain: we will be visiting Mars within our lifetime.