The late Kasey Casem advised his listeners to “keep reaching for the stars” and it appears that at least one American is taking his advice sincerely. Elon Musk, the Canadian-American wunderkind, plans to set humans on Mars within about 10 years. The business and tech superstar believes that what “matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multi-planetary.”
Musk is the founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technical Officer of SpaceX, a space transportation services company. He says that his company’s goal of putting humans on Mars is crucial for humanity’s future survival. If humans do not become an interplanetary species, he predicts, they will become extinct because of either a natural or man-made disaster. Just getting to Mars is not enough, he said, and that an actual, self-sustaining city will be most important.
Elon Musk has acquired a reputation for carrying out remarkable objectives, such as large-scale solar power, the commercialization of space travel and electric vehicles. So when he does not hesitate to declare that humans could walk on Mars as early as 10 years from now, such predictions are not easily dismissed.
Musk recently invested in two artificial intelligence (AI) startup companies, DeepMind and Vicarious. Not to make money, he said, but because he is concerned about the powerful yet still unknown possibilities of AI and wants to stay close to the issue. He believes that AI technology could have a “potentially dangerous outcome.” This concern is, perhaps, part of the fuel behind his desire to get human’s off Earth. When asked what AI is used for, Musk said that he actually does not know but that there can be some “scary outcomes,” citing the movie Terminator as an example.
The estimated timetable for setting humans on Mars by 2024 is ahead of the 2030 projection for any such program organized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). That agency’s plans are mostly talk at this point, as it would first need to secure billions of dollars in taxpayer funding and also build a vehicle capable of the job. On the other hand, a rocket built by Musk’s SpaceX, the Falcon Heavy booster, is on schedule for its first flight within a year and its payload capacity could feasibly make the construction of a Mars-bound spacecraft possible.
SpaceX has contracted with NASA for cargo-carrying missions up to the International Space Station (ISS) and the company’s Dragon capsule is capable of bringing crew members to the ISS. A contract with NASA for such work is hoped for. However, with or without such a contract, Musk does not hesitate to re-assert his confidence in delivering humans to Mars.
Closer to Earth – but still above ground – Elon Musk has envisioned the Hyperloop, an elevated, high-speed transportation system capable of shuttling people from place to place at speeds up to 760 miles per hour. The idea envisions humans inside pressurized capsules that move inside reduced-pressure tubes, riding on a cushion of air.
Born in South Africa, Musk obtained Canadian citizenship through his Canadian mother. He moved to that country at the age of 17 and became an American citizen in 2002. Musk’s first entrepreneurial venture was a software company, Zip2, with his brother Kimbal. Musk received $22 million when it was sold to Compaq in 1999. Musk was also a founder of PayPal and, when that company was sold to eBay, he received $165 million.
Funding to get humans to Mars within 10 years could come partially from Elon Musk’s plan to “float” SpaceX, which is to say, put it up for sale on a public stock exchange. The timing for such an offering, he says, would make the most sense after a Mars vehicle had been developed or even flown a few times.
By Gregory Baskin