Elon Musk is going to put humans on Mars in the next ten years or so. He hopes. The Tesla entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX told CNBC he’s “hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years. I think it’s certainly possible for that to occur, but the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multi-planetary.”
For now, any mission to Mars would merely be a look around. It’ll be a while before Tesla installs charging stations for super-rich families on Martian space vacations. But, SpaceX has two goals: reduce the cost of space travel and colonize Mars. If they succeed, one day humans will finally be able to discriminate against one another for being born on a different planet. And we’ll be able to sit in space traffic.
It all sounds very… futuristic. But, why should we invest in outer space?
Electric cars, solar-powered high speed trains, space transportation–these ideas were spawned from inebriated discussions in smokey college dorms and dimly lit dive bars. Along comes a scrappy investor with a big brain, a bigger imagination, and millions of dollars from the sale of PayPal to eBay and, before you know it, science fiction dreams become reality. That’s what big thinkers do: imagine the future, take risks, and shape the world.
Interplanetary colonization is not a science fiction fantasy anymore. Basic production of fuel, food, water, and energy can be accomplished on the surface of Mars. That’s enough for humans to survive, extract resources, and begin terraforming. This blueprint could be replicated on any number of sister planets, which means humans would have the option of transplanting themselves across the entire universe. Combine that with lower space transportation costs and, theoretically, the human race could survive forever.
It’s a great option to have considering how easily the species could be removed from the planet. Plenty of footage exists displaying the brutal destructive power of natural disasters, like hurricanes and tsunamis, which are only expected to get worse due to sea level rise and unusual weather patterns caused by global warming. Every few years, the media runs stories about killer asteroids, and, despite Hollywood’s feel-good portrayals, no real plan exists to stop a massive asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
So, Is Elon Musk the only hope for humanity?
If SpaceX accomplishes its two goals, humans will be in a unique position of controlling their own destiny. For the first time, a species will hold the power to completely destroy themselves or save themselves from extinction.
Space transportation will never be affordable to the common man since regular transportation still isn’t affordable to the common man–just ask the people waiting at the bus stop in February. If the species is facing extinction, it’s a safe bet that most of the tickets will go to titans of industry, political leaders, and other important people. Elon Musk himself probably has a reclining chair reserved. But, saving the species is not about the individual human; it’s about humanity.
That’s the kind of big picture thinking that separates Musk from other entrepreneurs. He realizes that humanity is bigger than one person, or one country, or even one planet. The advancement of the species depends on teamwork. It explains why Tesla recently gave away all of their electric vehicle patents in the hopes that sharing their technology would spur the advancement of the industry as a whole.