What drives Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to push so hard for crewed missions to Mars? Why, of all the projects and possibilities open to Musk, is that one so important to him? In a recent interview with Aeon’s Ross Anderson, the tech billionaire revealed that he sits firmly in the philosophical camp that believes colonizing space is humanity’s only long-term hope for survival. He also thinks humans could be living on Mars within 100 years.
A catalyst for Musk’s push for a Mars program apparently came in 2001, when he realized that NASA was not going to be sending astronauts to the red planet any time in the foreseeable future. Over time, he has built SpaceX into a multibillion dollar company that now shares the same contract for sending NASA astronauts to the International Space Station with Boeing. But it is the prospect of a Mars colony that really drives his ambitions. In the interview, Musk told Anderson that he thought it would take a million colonists to make a civilization on Mars feasible. Just getting them there would take around 100,000 missions including freight, hence Musk’s experiments with reusable rockets.
The question remains though, why? Musk told Anderson: “I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary, 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 would be like, ‘Good news, the problems of poverty and disease have been solved, but the bad news is there aren’t any humans left.'” While Musk is considering catastrophic events such as asteroid strikes, in response to the argument that humanity doesn’t really deserve to survive if we ourselves make that much of a mess of Earth, he stated: “I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future.”
From Mars Musk believes humanity could go on to colonize some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as well as some of the larger asteroids: the technology and the economic focus would be there to do it. His idea for the first Mars colony is based on the colonists self-funding their trips, which he costs out at around $500,000 each. Musk says that he himself would not take the journey until he was sure that SpaceX could continue its work if he died during the risky endeavor. While it’s easy to admire Musk for his vision and his consistent habit of putting his money where his mouth is, who’s with him on this one?
Images by SpaceX