For many people, the idea of humans on Mars seems like something that could, with the right funding and a little luck, possibly happen in a very limited way sometime soon. For Elon Musk, it's a very real possibility that Mars will be his future home.
The SpaceX founder and Tesla owner has long been vocal about his plans to send spacecraft — first unmanned cargo vessels and then manned missions — to the Red Planet in the near future, with his own recent projections placing humans on Mars by 2024. He's also explored the idea of being one of the people on one of those future voyages, and in a new interview with Axios for their HBO docuseries he tried to make it clear just how serious he is about that goal.
When asked how likely he would be to go to Mars, 47-year-old Musk put his odds at "70 percent," and emphasized that when he says he's going to Mars, he means he's "talking about moving there."
Musk has long been an advocate for exploring the future of human life on Mars as an alternative to life on an Earth that's increasingly altered in dangerous ways by climate change and overpopulation. In the past he's argued for various methods of terraforming the planet, and believes that with the right resources it could become livable for human life on a larger scale than a few crewed space missions.
This, of course, raises the issue of who exactly would get to go to Mars, and how much it would cost them, should permanent life there prove to be viable. When asked about the criticism that the idea of life on Mars is an "escape hatch for rich people," Musk responded by pointing out the harsh realities of being one of the first people to live there.
"Really the ad for going to Mars would be like Shackleton's ad for going to the Antarctic. It's gonna be hard. There's a good chance of death. Going in a little can through deep space, you might land successfully, once you land successfully, you'll be working nonstop to build the base. Not much time for leisure, and once you get there, even after doing all this, it's a very harsh environment, so there's a good chance you die there. We think you can come back, but we're not sure. Now, does that sound like an escape hatch for rich people?"
It's easy to imagine from a sci-fi enthusiast's standpoint the notion that, once the hard work is done on Mars, wealthy people could indeed buy a ticket and go hang out on a colony if they wanted, but Musk isn't selling his particular version of the journey that way. Though he estimated a price point for getting himself there (after all of the equipment is paid for and built, of course) at "a couple hundred thousand dollars," he's also talking about being one of the people on the ground doing the hard work to see if future voyages and livable conditions are even possible. When asked why, he compared the possibility of dying on Mars to the possibility of mountain climbers dying on Mount Everest.
"They like doing it for the challenge," he said.