A lot of people talk about why we need to explore and colonize the heavens, but few actually have the means to make it happen. So when SpaceX founder Elon Musk says it, we might want to listen.
Aeon conducted an extensive sit-down with the billionaire leading the charge into space exploration, touching on everything from his plan for a Mars colony to theories that we’re all living in the Matrix or an alien Petri dish. Needless to say, it’s a rambling must-read for science fans.
Musk’s company was recently awarded a $2.6 billion NASA contract to develop new ships to carry Americans to the International Space Station (ISS), though his sights are arguably set quite a bit higher than Earth orbit. According to Musk, we must colonize the stars to ensure the survival of humanity. By keeping all our eggs in one basket — or planet, as it would be — Musk believes we’re taking too big a risk with our species:
“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.’
It's funny. Not everyone loves humanity. Either explicitly or implicitly, some people seem to think that humans are a blight on the Earth's surface. They say things like, ‘Nature is so wonderful; things are always better in the countryside where there are no people around.’ They imply that humanity and civilization are less good than their absence. But I'm not in that school. I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future.”
Musk went on to talk about what might be holding us back, considering that at the time of the space race we had planned to have humans on Mars by the 1980s. Musk sees Mars as the linchpin to push humanity to colonize most of our solar system while work continues on new technologies that could help us push out even farther. But he also worries that intelligent civilizations are destined to fail, noting that there could be a whole lot of dead civilizations out there rotting in ruins on individual, lonely planets:
“The absence of any noticeable life may be an argument in favor of us being in a simulation. Like when you’re playing an adventure game, and you can see the stars in the background, but you can’t ever get there. If it’s not a simulation, then maybe we’re in a lab and there’s some advanced alien civilization that’s just watching how we develop, out of curiosity, like mould in a petri dish. If you look at our current technology level, something strange has to happen to civilizations, and I mean strange in a bad way. And it could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilizations…
I’m not saying I’m skeptical of the stars I just wonder what humanity will even look like when we try to do that. If we can establish a Mars colony, we can almost certainly colonize the whole Solar System, because we’ll have created a strong economic forcing function for the improvement of space travel. We’ll go to the moons of Jupiter, at least some of the outer ones for sure, and probably Titan on Saturn, and the asteroids. Once we have that forcing function, and an Earth-to-Mars economy, we’ll cover the whole Solar System. But the key is that we have to make the Mars thing work. If we’re going to have any chance of sending stuff to other star systems, we need to be laser-focused on becoming a multi-planet civilization. That’s the next step.”
If you have any interest in space travel and the mind of the man pushing NASA and the rest of the planet to get our asses to Mars, we highly recommend you check out the full article. It’s a long read, but well worth the time.
Do you think a private company like SpaceX will be the first to reach Mars, or will it be a government (U.S. or otherwise)?