Elon Musk wants to rocket you to Mars — if you’re ready to wager at least $200,000 and possibly your life on it.
Musk’s mission to the Red Planet involves reusable rockets, meaning lower launch costs, which might explain why that ticket price isn’t zooming into the millions (yet). His futuristic vision is to go beyond just Martian tourism and make homo sapiens “a multi-planetary species.” Sounds daring enough, right? Daring enough that you know there has to be something more behind it.
There has been considerable skepticism about why the unofficial estimate for a ticket to space doesn’t shoot into the seven digits. Even recycled rockets can’t possibly make the cost of actually living on Mars much easier on an Earth bank account. While 200 grand convinces ordinary Earthlings of an opportunity for an especially futuristic future if they save over an extended period of time, the reality is that this might just be some well-devised advertising.
“Just from a basic analysis of rockets and gravity, and then doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations on how much you need to take with you to sustain people ... 200,000 seems very ambitious,” said University of Michigan professor Ella Atkins, a member of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. “But there are some politics here—how many people are going to really going to get behind a company if SpaceX told them, ‘Yeah, it’s going to cost a million dollars to go to Mars.’”
If SpaceX was orbiting closer to a seven-figure price tag, the wouldbe unlikely to receive support from government agencies—and all the non-billionaire voters who back them.
While it seems that Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles wasn’t too far-out about Earthlings flying to and even colonizing the Red Planet, but Bradbury was apparently dead onto the risk as well (and that was in 1950). A potential Martian colony could end up as the ghost town it disintegrates into in the book. More power to you if you are a billionaire who can afford to invest in something so extravagant as a ticket to Mars, but you might arrive as a skeleton. If you arrive at all.
The thought of space travel for those of us who didn’t major in rocket science may sound like a sci-fi adventure, but it’s much more ethically complicated than just shooting a rocket 34 million miles through space. Never mind that it could be Apollo 13 or Columbia all over again, you could face irreversible effects on your brain and even your DNA (as determined by NASA). That doesn’t include the potential bone and muscle atrophy, vision changes and radiation exposure that are standard side effects of being anti-gravity too long.
“The risk of fatality will be high,” Musk admitted to an eager audience back in September. “It would be basically, are you prepared to die? If that’s okay, you’re a candidate for going ... the probability of death is quite high on the first mission.”
So would you be willing to be a passenger to your possible demise for a tech mogul’s dream? I think I’ll just wait for the launch of the Mars 2020 Rover right here on Earth.