Why Elon Musk Wants to Go to Mars

Tim Urban at Wait but Why has a fascinating longform series on How and Why SpaceX Will Colonize Mars which itself is part of a longer series on Elon Musk and his companies. Here’s just one bit:

The Scary Thing About the Universe

Species extinctions are kind of like human deaths—they’re happening constantly, at a mild and steady rate. But a mass extinction event is, for species, like a war or a sweeping epidemic is for humans—an unusual event that kills off a large chunk of the population in one blow. Humans have never experienced a mass extinction event, and if one happened, there’s a reasonable chance it would end the human race—either because the event itself would kill us (like a collision with a large enough asteroid), or the effects of an event would (like something that decimates the food supply or dramatically changes the temperature or atmospheric composition). The extinction graph below shows animal extinction over time (using marine extinction as an indicator). I’ve labeled the five major extinction events and the percentage of total species lost during each one (not included on this graph is what many believe is becoming a new mass extinction, happening right now, caused by the impact of humans):1


…Let’s imagine the Earth is a hard drive, and each species on Earth, including our own, is a Microsoft Excel document on the hard drive filled with trillions of rows of data. Using our shortened timescale, where 50 million years = one month, here’s what we know:

  • Right now, it’s August of 2015
  • The hard drive (i.e. the Earth) came into existence 7.5 years ago, in early 2008
  • A year ago, in August of 2014, the hard drive was loaded up with Excel documents (i.e. the origin of animals). Since then, new Excel docs have been continually created and others have developed an error message and stopped opening (i.e gone extinct).
  • Since August 2014, the hard drive has crashed five times—i.e. extinction events—in November 2014, in December 2014, in March 2015, April 2015, and July 2015. Each time the hard drive crashed, it rebooted a few hours later, but after rebooting, about 70% of the Excel docs were no longer there. Except the March 2015 crash, which erased 95% of the documents.
  • Now it’s mid-August 2015, and the homo sapiens Excel doc was created about two hours ago.

Now—if you owned a hard drive with an extraordinarily important Excel doc on it, and you knew that the hard drive pretty reliably tended to crash every month or two, with the last crash happening five weeks ago—what’s the very obvious thing you’d do?

You’d copy the document onto a second hard drive.

That’s why Elon Musk wants to put a million people on Mars.

On a related note the latest Planet Money podcast is How to Stop an Asteroid. It’s funny and informative and yours truly makes an appearance. Worth a listen.


Now the question becomes: how much of this effort should be funded with taxpayer money. Space travel as a whole has resulted in some extraordinary technology benefits and new discoveries. When companies like SpaceX [0] are given subsidies, does that mean the technologies they find are open for all the public to use, or are they going to be locked behind our arcane IP law-cage?

[0] I believe SpaceX has released its patents for public use, but what about other companies in this space receiving subsidies?

Probably straightforward to fund the whole project by selling Martian luxury real estate. No tax payer needs to be involved.

The two problems that come to mind are: 1) It's technically illegal to sell Martian real estate, or at least there's no legal authority to cover who really owns a deed and 2) You probably can't sell enough to actually cover the costs of anything more than a couple of trips to Mars.

To get to Mars, there's going to have to be something more valuable than a very cold, very large desert to attract people.

Antarctica is far more hospitable than Mars (at least it has breathable air). And it's a whole lot closer (much cheaper to travel or transport stuff there than to Mars). And it's probably got exploitable minerals that could be profitably sold, even considering transportation costs.

Of course you can't buy or sell land there any more than you could buy or sell acreage on Mars, but if you could it would be a far better real estate proposition.

Although settling it wouldn't do much to prevent extinction of our species.

Detroit is even more hospitable, but it too does nothing to address the points space colonization addresses. This is a red herring.

Although to be fair, Mars is going to have a substantially lower crime rate than Detroit for the foreseeable future.

At least, until humans show up.

Whoever gets to Mars and sets up a self sustaining colony first is who will become the actual legal authority to sell the land. Of course, once it becomes feasible to land, there will be several great powers who can do that during the time it takes to make Mars habitable. But in any case, the lack of a legal authority is meaningless in practice. One will be created when needed.

As for what is valuable to justify the investment, Dr Zubrin speculated in The Case for Mars that Mars is rich in abdundant mineral resources given its volcanic activity, and should have large amounts of deuterium that will be needed for nuclear fusion. These could be valuable assets by the late 21st century and beyond.

Scientific colonies on Mars is probably technically feasible now. Financially, one could be supported by a consortium of great powers in the mid century. Economic colonies that will be self-sustaining will take longer to develop.

Didn't you watch Star Trek III??

Musk has his bases covered.

Whoever gets to Mars and sets up a self sustaining colony first is who will become the actual legal authority to sell the land.

I don't think history supports that idea.

It work for the US. Sure there was a period when the home country tried tighten the leash. But that backfired.

In fairness, SpaceX is probably more accurately seen as a competitor to government projects living in eternal fear of being shut down than as a recipient of subsidy.

The bad guy you want to address is Boeing. Or Lockheed Martin.

Cool core = no magnetic field = no atmosphere. Unless we somehow get the technology to spin up a planet's core, living on Mars will at best be confined to tiny colonies. Hard to see how they could be self-sufficient in the long term.

In the long run that's true. But we're talking tens of millions of years here and I think that's sufficiently far in the future that I wouldn't worry about it. Also, giving Mars a magnetic field is a much easier problem than terraforming it in the first place.

Mars currently has a thin atmosphere. It takes hundreds of thousands of years to lose an atmosphere.

There are Large Engineering Projects like finding nitrogen-and-water asteroids in the outer solar system and slowly burning them off the existing atmosphere to gradually thicken it. It's out-of-reach today but with reliable rockets and computers it's more feasible.

If we are going to do that sort of thing, why not just live among the asteroids?

Mars is probably the easiest target, at least for the next couple of hundred years, and it's scientifically more interesting.

Andrew how exactly is creating a magnetic field easier than terraforming. Venus has a very thick atmosphere and yet no real magnetic field so clearly you can have an atmosphere without one. And adding one to mars can be done in some conceivable way.

The Earth's magnetic field works because of its layered core. Do you really think giving mars a layered core and introducing a convective mantle to maintain it is more trivial than adding material to a thin atmosphere.

I suspect adding a magnetic field to an existing planet is more difficult than just creating a new planet from scratch.

Didn't you see that episode of Futurama where they harness the rotational energy of the Earth's core using a huge ball of string and tons of cats creating static electricity.

" how much of this effort should be funded with taxpayer money." I think there are more urgent priorities at this moment... but this will become a major theme for our grand-grand children, so why not? Better this than military-industrial complex.

At this point it's more important for society to not stop people from colonizing Mars.

Getting to Mars is a matter of money, and eventually humans who want to go there will accumulate enough.

The bigger threat is that there will be some law that directly or indirectly stops those people.


Realistically, it's not going to be the government doing this or paying for the bulk of it. It's been technically possible for 60 years and Uncle Sam has done almost nothing.

Hi Alex - I'm only half way through myself, but I think you will enjoy Neal Stephenson's new novel Seveneves. It grapples not only with this possibility, but with the complexity of carrying it out. Self recommending.

I'm cautious about ascribing biographical causes, but may it be relevant that Musk has himself twice immigrated and taken new citizenship, first from South African to Canadian, then from Canadian to US? In that he appears to have retained all three citizenships, he could be said to have copied his person onto three different national harddrives, with options for opportunities and against unforeseen circumstances in all three countries. Extending his options and security to an additional planet is a natural extension of this.

i bet that there's almost nothing we could do to the earth as a species that would make it less habitable than mars. better to spend the money on reliable cryogenics and a bunch of Vaults.

"i bet that there’s almost nothing we could do to the earth as a species that would make it less habitable than mars."

That's an excellent point. Even a dinosaur extinction level asteroid will leave a Terran biosphere far more survivable than Mars is now.

This only shows why I much prefer to label the phenomenon "Technogenic Climate Change" (not "Anthropogenic Climate Change", which I assume is still favored among science journalists): not only is the advent of modern technology (and not the advent of tool-making humans themselves/ourselves) THE chief culprit in fomenting global climate change, now we fairly are required to depend on our technology to repair the damages or provide the escape from the calamities our technology and our uncritical technophilia have caused.

The problem may already be unavoidable (human extinction on earth by 2400 CE? if it takes that long): but there's no compelling reason to think that technology-laden humans settling on the Moon or Mars or some orbiting outpost would fail to carry some plague-generating technology with them. (BTW: since no evidence of dinosaur habitation on Mars has been documented, I suppose the likelihood of discovering oil deposits there is not bright. Have uranium or plutonium deposits on the Red Planet been found?)

Posterity, should it arrive, will simply have to take care of itself: for the rest of us, within 400 years, we shall all be just as dead as any anomalocaridid that's been sleeping soundly in the Burgess Shale for 400 million years.

Yeah, that's the problem with people positing going to Mars to avoid a plague back home or some other human-caused malady. You're taking the "human factor" with you to Mars as well, and with as much risk.

I was thinking more of a metaphoric "plague" (a plague of cellphones, a plague of apps) than strictly a bacteriological or virological strain: but since both risks of plague would be applicable in terms of exo-planet colonization, I guess that the chances of colonization's ultimate success would not be appreciably higher.

Have uranium or plutonium deposits on the Red Planet been found?)


Mars has uranium and thorium. Ore concentrations haven't been found, buts Mars was geologically active which means it would probably lump the stuff into a vein somewhere. . .

This post is just pure misanthropy.

The reason I back up data is that the data is useful to me.

But if I'm on Earth, and something wipes out everything here, I don't care if there's someone on Mars surviving. The backup is not useful to me.

Even from an interpersonal perspective, the data is not even good data. It contains everything from how to create rapists and torturers to predators and megawars. I would not spend even one cent on backing that up. Fuck the Mozarts and the Einsteins. Not worth one dime.

You seem like a real swell chap.

What if it wipes out humans, but leaves behind chimps and dolphins and jackals?
You've heard about dophin-rape, right?

I'm pretty sure the additional rapists and torturers count extra, seeing how their are additional.

You can say what you want, but it's a fact that there is no rape and torture on Mars or Europa now, and people like Musk explicitly plan to change that.

Earth was rotten millions of years before we came, but this is no excuse to turn other planets to shit too.

Then again, it's his money, and morality has never stopped anyone raping and torturing.

The Donald Trump of the Mars colonization debate.

"morality has never stopped anyone raping and torturing."

Good point. Not much use is it, then? I say let the raping and torturing commence.

> Fuck the Mozarts and the Einsteins. Not worth one dime

Feel free to get lost, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

(Please delete this and the above comment, accidental duplicate)

(Now I look silly.)

Yeah. It's the same reason why I don't care about the lives of my children, except insofar as they look after me. Once I'm dead, kill the children! Imagine if they became rapists, or even worth, Mozart.

Or worth, a politician! :)

Yeah. It's the same reason why I don't care about the lives of my children, except insofar as they look after me. Once I'm dead, kill the children! Imagine if they became rapists, or even worse, Mozart.

The demographic transition tells us that people do indeed only have the children that are useful to them (plus a few accidental babies).

And you really never know if your child, or one of theirs, becomes a serial killer, rapist or Space Hitler. Objectively you can't trust them any more than some other random guy.

My personal opinion: Once I'm dead, you can sterilize humanity. And nothing of value was lost.

No one cares, bro.

And yet you feel the need to respond, and I wasn't even talking to you.

We could also reasonably ask whether the human species is "extraordinarily important" in the first place. The planet and universe will go on without us. Let's consult, say, Richard Dawkins on his views.

Exactly. The two words "extraordinarily important" are the linchpin of the argument, and they are treated as self-evident. Get over yourself and those like you.

As far as we know, Earth is the only place in the universe with "life." You might consider "life" unimportant, and if so I won't attempt to change your opinion. But there are those of us who think it is important and want it in more places.

On the other hand, humans are the species most likely to get all the other species backed up to the second hard drive as quickly as possible.

We get wiped out, and everything from bacteria to fungi has to wait another couple of million years for a second backup opportunity.

Backing up species does not back up the ecosphere that created and sustained them.

And this is all a bit like trying to back up your hard drive to a vacuum cleaner. Sure, with time you could turn it into a storage device, but do you have that much time before failure? Shouldn't you be trying to repair your hard drive or building a better one, not starting over from scratch?

I love the idea of space settlement but these arguments, though appealing, do not hold up. It's a land grab for billionaires and as usual the billionaires go for the populist argument to get it over.

Well, the ecosphere is largely created and sustained by the living organisms within it. You just have to get the cycle going. The problem is not the lack of an ecosphere, but a lack of air and liquid water.

A better analogy would be like trying to backup your hard drive to a stone tablet. how much storage capacity can you really expect, and how long is the data transfer going ot take?

Also, why would billionaires want to "grab" land that is completely unsuitable for life? This is the silliest part of your post. To be completely serious, I don't think Musk expects to earn a dime out of colonizing Mars. I think he's actual serious about doing this for the sake of humanity. He's hardly the first eccentric billionaire to spend a fortune on something related to space colonization. Remember Biosphere 2?

"It’s a land grab for billionaires and as usual the billionaires go for the populist argument to get it over. "

LOL. Ok, so what? I can't imagine in anyway that a billionaire claiming a large chuck of Mars by actually going there will negatively effect me in anyway.

Obligatory comment about how humans.xlsx is corrupted or poorly formatted

True, but it also contains the only macro for copying excel spreadsheets to backup hard drives.

humans.ods surely?

Please, we're still trying to reverse engineer the APIs. Does that sound like free software to you?

Humans.xlsx is surely full of imperfections, yet biology seems enormously more robust than computer hardware (let alone software).

I am a Ph.D. student in computer science working on border of HW/SW (compilers, ISAs, architecture), and I find your comment fascinating.

In the biological sense, why do you see hardware as more robust than software? Software can be easily replicated, evolved, replaced, adapted to a new environment (new hardware), etc. In hardware, these things take much longer or are much more difficult.

Well, the line between hardware and software has always been somewhat fluid, but hardware remains limited by physics whereas software (like math) is limited only by imagination.

But in any case, it's still possible to devise tests for synchronous digital hardware- even very complex hardware- that can detect a high percentage of possible faults in it. Whereas even fairly simple software has so many possible states that exhaustive testing of it quickly becomes impractical.

Structures that have evolved to protect and expand specific gene pools will not survive over long time scales. Whether biological or societal these structures sow the seeds of their own demise - ie over-population, war, environmental damage etc. Unfortunately, evolution is good at rewarding selfish behavior. All PC science to the contrary, cooperation is not nearly as strong a motivator. I suppose for a stable cooperative structure what you want is forced cross breeding across the globe with shared parenting, and a move to a single language (Swedish Socialistic model). This won't happen. Maybe you could argue that what you really want is one country to wipe all other off the map in a winner-take-all type of stability (Mid-East Jihad model).

Moving the whole shebang to a much less hospitable planet doesn't sound like that interesting of a goal, but then again, what is an interesting goal, shrinking the Earth's population?

Stalin couldn't build the New Soviet Man, but perhaps genetic engineers could manage it.

Humans are so radically, triumphantly successful as a species precisely because we are a cooperative species. If we had the sociability of, say, house cats we would have gone extinct not long after we climbed down from the tree tops.

Larry Niven begs to differ: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kzin

'Humans have never experienced a mass extinction event'

We are about to experience one, it seems - http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/22/the-earth-is-on-the-brink-of-a-sixth-mass-extinction-scientists-say-and-its-humans-fault/

The current mass extinction actually began c. 10K years ago (when the last Ice Age ended) and it's been ongoing.


Meh, a forgettable movie with a ridiculous premise.

One thing colonization proponents don't discuss is the _new_ existential risk created by spreading humanity onto two planets, the risk of mutual destruction. "Mutually assured destruction" works best as a deterrent when two societies are on the same planet. What I fear is the dynamic instability of humanity while we are on two & three worlds. ... This is less of a concern if colonization happens outside the Solar System.

True. Remember Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? Just think if, instead of The Professor, they had a Mao or Lenin type figure on Luna.

This is less of a problem with Mars, though. Any missiles launched by either side would take months to reach their targets.

If Mao or Lenin had taken over the Moon from "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" they would have attempted to collectivize the farms immediately and would have been take a long walk outside the airlock within the week.

Why would I put a million people in a gravity well? Why not a million tiny space stations?

Because planets have materials that humans can use to survive and reproduce and make more humans.

We could have colonized Mars in the 1980s, but truly independent space stations are probably still a long way off.

"We could have colonized Mars in the 1980s,..."

You know when I think about it, there would be a lot of issues. Still if the US were willing to dedicate half of it's military budget from 1991 (collapse of the USSR) to 2001 and was willing to accept a 15% fatality rate among the astronauts, I think it would be doable.

Yeah, it's pretty clear we could have put people on Mars with 1990s technology. The main issue is cost and risk, but really cost more than risk--there will be no shortage of people willing to take a big personal risk of death in order to get to spend a year and a half on Mars.

Yeah, fair enough, it surely would have been expensive. Though launch costs would have fallen a lot if we did a lot more launching.

15% fatality rates don't sound that high in the context of historical missions of exploration and colonization.

15% sounds about right for a mission done in the 1980s with NASAs 1980s mindset.

But "half the military budget" is over-estimating the cost. There are generally five technologies needed:

1. Heavy lift (which the US has had off-and-on over the decades)

2. In-situ production of water and oxygen

3. Spinning space-craft, and experience with their failure modes (deliberately induced, if necessary)

4. Methane-fueled rockets

5. Mars EDL

None of those is dependent on the others, and most of them have applications to things besides Mars missions. None of those are more than 10 billion.

That's like asking why tons of people don't live on floating ship-cities in the ocean, or even on sea platforms a few dozen or hundred miles off the coast. The answer would be the same: they're expensive to build, you have to import everything with realistically available technology, and once you've done that you're farther away from the action and everybody else than if you'd just built a community on land. Maybe you could make yourself more self-reliant by figuring out how to extract raw materials and energy from sea water, the ocean floor and nearby sea mounts, and the sky, but it's still going to be a relatively high expenditure of time and energy to do so compared to just living on land and going out on a ship for commercial, scientific, or personal pleasure every once in a while.

I don't get the point with colonizing Mars. Better to spend this money on curing cancer or reversing climate change. That will bring more tangible benefits to humanity. I don't get the value-added of saving humans as a species.

Let's say we can fund two technologies in the case we find out an asteroid will collide with us:
- Technology A: protect earth from the major asteroid. Let's say that there's a 50% chance this technology succeeds so that you either save 7 billion people (current world population) with a 50% chance or nobody.
-Technology B: send a lot of people to Mars to colonize it and start over. This will save with certainty 10 million people (let's be optimistic) and we know that they will have the technology to live on Mars and that humanity will continue.

My point is that I will always favor the alternative that saves more people on average and I don't see why the continuation of the human species should be part of this cost-benefit analysis. If we all die, nobody will care about our extinction (except some pet dog/cats).

It's not just a backup (and I dislike framing it that way), it's a whole 'nother planet of people.

Britain lost control of its colonies, but still massively benefitted from their creation.

So let's colonize Antarctica and Sahara before Mars. Much easier to do and much closer to trade.


No, they didn't.

I have difficulty understanding this comment. Surely the whole world benefited massively from the creation of the United States?

This is the question of the relative worth of current and future lives.

With the assumptions that the remaining humanity will continue to prosper and that future population bottlenecks exists, the number of future humans that will exist starting from 10M and 7B are about the same.

If you assign the same worth to current and future lives, it is twice as good to colonize Mars and start over. If you assign all the worth to current lives then your position follows. The crossover point is somewhere in-between.

For me it is a self-evident truth that future lives has value.

Sorry, that article is wrong, I'm colonizing it before SpaceX.

It seems pretty clear that this is a long form PR piece. I found it cloying.

You missed the largest extinction event, the oxygen catastrophe 2.3 billion years before present.

quite unconvincing

for those reasons for extinctions which are known ( asteroids/coments + huge geologic activity ( volcanoes ) ) humanity can be preserved with less expenses.

Facts - since 2005 no new near earth asteroids with D > 4km were found ( and the rate of discovery only increases ) currently there probably no potentially dangerous asteroids which are more than 1 km size ( or maybe 1 - 2 ( 1600+ potentially discovered asteroids found to date - none poses immediate threat )) an asteroid 1 km diameter will bring humanity 100 years back, but will not be a source of major extinction.
spending several bln dollars will give us almost complete picture of asteroids + warning for any new objects from ouside of solar system and also a nuclear defense for any reasonable possible threat ( with warning time 1-2 years - an average nuclear explosion can move objects several km in diameters ).

the same goes for volcanoes - for super volcano there is need for a huge changer.
There is only one known - Yellowstone - for which a) we know that no other country than US will be greatly affected b) it is not about to erupt anytime soon

maybe there are other chambers - but modern geological methods allow to spot them spending, again, less than 1 bln dollars.

Knowing a threat - it is quite reasonably to assume, that a huge chamber could be 'defused'.

Smaller volcanic explosions won't bring earth to knees, though can bring some trouble

Given that anyway humanity will move forward to space ( asteroid mining - which seems could be profitable soon ) and given that technology will keep developing - it is really seems not very good idea to rush now to put 1 mln peoople on Mars.

There are in fact multiple supervolcanos on Earth. They do have global-scale consequences for agriculture due to the sheer amount of stuff they throw into the atmosphere.

Not to mention parts of Canada are in the path of direct harm from Yellowstone.

I believe anthropologists and geneticists have identified a point in the palaeolithic period when human population fell to a four digit number. Cannot recall details.

If I'm not mistaken, it is now believed that the entire German and Ashkenazic Jewish population is descended from a three digit set of people who lived in the late Medieval or Renaissance period.

That human bottleneck of which you speak is widely believed to have been caused by a supervolcano in New Zealand.

Are you referring to the Toba Catastrophe? That was in Indonesia.


"The Toba event is the most closely studied super-eruption. In 1993, science journalist Ann Gibbons suggested a link between the eruption and a population bottleneck in human evolution, ... According to the genetic bottleneck theory, between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, human populations sharply decreased to 3,000–10,000 surviving individuals. It is supported by genetic evidence suggesting that today's humans are descended from a very small population of between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs that existed about 70,000 years ago."

In or around 535 AD there was a catastrophic eruption in either Indonesia or Central America (or maybe there were two eruptions, one in each place) that darkened the sun, chilled the climate for two years (old tree rings show no growth at all around the time) and led to global famine. This and a plague pandemic that followed so after, more so than the barbarian invasions, is what was the culprit behind the collapse of civilization in Europe and the Middle East at the end of antiquity.

There was no collapse of civilization in the Near East in Late Antiquity, in spite of the plague. The ruin of Italy was attributable to the plague and Justinian's botched attempt at reconquest. Evan so, you had residual urban life throughout the former western Roman realms except in Britannia.

This cult of Elon Musk - the saviour of human race has become hilarious. Go Elon, save the humanity! Just make sure no one will notice you use US taxpayers' money to do so.

look at part 1 where he says Elon Musk thinks people are literally computers and the writer thinks he is literally right. Clearly a hagiography.

One shouldn't insult the Prophet of the Solar System's dominant faith...

BTW: just how long will it take for Elon Musk, Inc., to retrieve sufficient matter from the Oort Cloud or the Kuiper Belt to begin to irrigate the arid Red Planet sufficient to sustain long-term human habitation? I think I'd tackle THAT problem forty or fifty years before I even began to contemplate colonization efforts.

"BTW: just how long will it take for Elon Musk, Inc., to retrieve sufficient matter from the Oort Cloud or the Kuiper Belt"

I'm pretty sure we'd go get water out of the asteroid belt, which cosmologically speaking, is next door to Mars.

Yes, in the centuries-to-millennia timeframe, terraforming Mars may be possible. If it is possible, it's desirable for Musk's stated reasons. But it's so completely impossible right now that it's hard to see the point. It would be like Philip II trying to develop nuclear aircraft carriers in 1588, because it is certainly true that they'd be very helpful in the invasion of England.

"Yes, in the centuries-to-millennia timeframe, terraforming Mars may be possible. "

I don't think we can terraform Mars with our current technical level, but the "centuries-to-millenia" time frame is far longer than necessary given the current state of technological progress.

Phillip II has far more in common with the technological level of Andrew Jackson from 1815 than Andrew Jackson does with our technological level of 2015.

Well to be fair. The centuries sounds about right for the far end. My WAG is that humans will have the capability of terraforming Mars in the 50 to 200 year time range. And that it will be trivial in the 200-500 year range, as in a sufficiently rich individual or a large university could fund the project.

We could presumably build a worldhouse much more quickly than we could conduct a full terraforming, and that effectively gets you to the same point.

There is enough known and retrievable water on Mars to do the initial colonization. Maybe not enough for 10 million people, but enough for 10 thousand.

There's enough water on Mars for a terraforming project, but water isn't the project. The problems are the lack of biomass (which will have to be built up over time after get conditions warm and wet enough for basic Earth life to survive there) and the widespread perchlorates in the Martian soil, which are toxic for humans and other animals. In fact, the latter would make any long-term stay on Mars more dangerous, since you only need very small doses of perchlorates to be dangerous to humans - and it's highly likely that Martian soil is going to get tracked into any space habitat there.

But you wouldn't necessarily make the copy **right this (mili)second**. If you really needed to go to the bathroom and your completely was being extremely slow because they were making an update to the system - and you expect the computer to be much better after you come from the bathroom - you'd go first.
Which is why Mars can probably wait till after we have much better technology to do it, and we can focus on the things that, if we don't solve right now, we lose.

*your computer, not your completely

Indeed, you'd probably prioritize making a copy on a time scale of a few minutes to an hour, which works out to a few tens of thousands of years.

Obligatory poster (which is hanging on my wall): https://goo.gl/QwcILj

"Let’s imagine the Earth is a hard drive"
Everything that's wrong with the SV culture, and those who fetishise it, in one half-sentence.

if horses made idols they would make horse shaped idols.

Kind of strange that there is a spike before the crashes. Why doesn't it spike up and stay up?

That's a terrible analogy. Humans are the first planet-wide species that can consciously affect the global environment for our own purposes, so we're not simply stuck waiting for the "drive to crash". We can fool around with settings, modify parts, and so forth - and if something from outside is threatening the stability of the drive, we can shield against that as well. In space, that means that we can deflect asteroids, build shelters, and so forth (although hilariously enough, a post-dino-killer impact Earth would still be much more hospitable than Mars is right now). That leaves human risks (like a pandemic), but you can't escape the "human factor" in a Mars colony either.

Space colonization continues to be an answer in search of a question, or possibly a disproportionate answer to a question. It's like saying that you need to build an off-the-grid house in the Atacama Desert (or Antarctica) because there's a possibility that your house back in Wichita might catch on fire. If someone told you that, you'd think they were crazy - the obvious thing to do would to take extra steps to prevent your house from catching on fire in Wichita. You might have good reasons to visit Antarctica (research, work), but you're not going to move down there permanently - and you certainly won't move down there because of the possibility that your house in Wichita might burn down.

Development of technology to colonize Mars will, by necessity, lead to technologies which can make deflecting asteroids easier.

It's not just the launches from Earth and the cataloging of everything in the solar system bigger than 10m. If the times comes to deflect an asteroid, you could launch a much bigger asteroid deflector from Mars than from Earth.

Space cults harm the society and must be curbed.

Behead those who insult Prophet Elon ibn Musk. The Machine Faith and the Space Gospel is the One True Faith of the 22nd Century and all other "faiths" (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Egalitarianism, Democracy, Buddhism, Deep Ecology, etc) are false religions...

Love this stuff. Excellent proof that being Elon Musk does not make you a genious about everything. I mean, seriously, hard drives? The reason you copy everything onto a second hard drive is that it is dirt cheap and you are indifferent to the fate of the first hard drive (just want the data). But in order to justify colonizing Mars you have to show several things:
1) Cost of colonizing Mars is less than reducing likelihood of extermination of human species on Earth -> highly unlikely
2) Population of Mars colony is capable of sustaining society and technologoly capable of surving on Mars -> not unless it gets to 100 million
3) Survival of human species is more important than simply avoiding death/suffering of existing humans -> can't get on board with this.

If people want to commit their own resources to space travel, fine. Just don't expect anyone to take you seriously.

If people want to commit their own resources to space travel, fine.

Can we count on you to oppose laws that would stop the colonists? Say some Mars Preservation Bill comes up that says no one can build houses on Mars. You would vote against that, right?

It would really suck if the tone changed from "whatever, just leave the government out of it" to "why are we letting these people do this without the government running it?"

It's funny how you think people here have an actual influence on what governments do or don't.

It's also funny how you think we have an obligation to help you stave off government bans. You might just as well say we have an obligation to pay your trip for you, which we don't.

Well, mpowell was expressing his desire against the government getting involved to pay and said private industry should take care of it. I don't know what his influence is, but presumably it was what it was when he said he was against the government getting involved to pay for it. If his influence is limited to posting on a web-BBS, okay.

I'm really just trying to get him to stick to the principle he claimed to have.

I'm not trying to get you to stick to anything, Serenity? I don't give a shit about you.

>I don’t give a shit about you.

I hope you are as eloquent as this in raising support for your project, because it deserves to fail.

Funny thing, I actually *am* a sitting Congressman and I would be happy to publicly denounce the Mars Preservation Act, provided of course you're willing to make a similar commitment to my re-election fund?

PM me and I'll tell you where to send the check.

"PM me and I’ll tell you where to send the check."

Gladly, but I only do Direct Deposits. Can you email me your Checking Account and Routing number, so I can get that right to you?

I'm not going to stop anyone who wants to raise funds for a Mars colony, and try it out as long as they don't have a negative impact here on Earth in leaving. Their lives and money to lose, as far as I'm concerned - although I would be annoyed at the prospect of contamination by these folks of Mars as a place for scientific study.

It would be a LOT cheaper to pick ten, or so, widely dispersed, inhospitable, locations on Earth (so cheap land) and build underground colonies to house 50,000 or so people each. Each colony would have to be self contained for food and energy. Your chances of at least one of the colonies surviving a massive asteroid strike or volcanic event are pretty good. If you have some sensible quarantine rules you could probably avoid an epidemic.

I would suggest: two in North America, two in South America, two in Africa, two in Eurasia, and one each in Greenland and Australia - all broadly spaced out.

Do you think you can get 50K people in each of them? This is an earnest question. Maybe there are enough survivalists who want to do that. But since people can just walk out you have to make it appealing enough to stay.

It would be easier to get to those locations, but would it be any easier to run them? Both Mars and the underground bunker would need very strict climate control, and the bunker wouldn't have access to the sun for growing plants.

(NB: I don't think the "backup plan" is the best reason to colonize space.)

You don't actually need to lock people in them. You could let people come and go with some quarantine restrictions to prevent a disease. It would have to be capable of self sustained living if needed but does not have to be self sustained all the time.

Imagine a college town and university campus built in the Australian outback. Power it by solar energy. Give it closed environments where it could grow food and protect the inhabitants from outside heat or cold or toxic atmospheres, IF NECESSARY. You constantly have a revolving cadre of 35 to 40 thousand intelligent young men and women and a group of professors who represent the accumulated knowledge of the world. If something dreadful happens, you close and lock the doors. We should have at least a few hours to respond to impending disaster.

You could build similar installations in other inhospitable places - the Sahara desert, Siberia, North Dakota etc. You only need one to survive to preserve the human race.

For a long time I believed in Mars colonization because I read The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin. It's a very appealing vision.

But unfortunately, it makes no sense. Colonizing Antarctica would be *much* easier than colonizing Mars. Why don't we see Antarctic colonization?

It is depressingly easy to fall prey to grandiose futurist visions.

For the foreseeable future, putting people into space is pointless. We need to focus on telescopes and robots. Cancel the ISS and human space exploration, but increase NASA's total budget so we can do much more with earth science, telescopes, and robots.

Anyone who spreads *this* vision is doing a public service and keeping gullible young chaps, like me at 16, from wasting their time.

But unfortunately, it makes no sense. Colonizing Antarctica would be *much* easier than colonizing Mars. Why don’t we see Antarctic colonization?

Here is the answer: http://www.jwz.org/blog/2015/01/but-i-dont-want-to-cure-cancer-i-want-to-turn-people-into-dinosaurs/

I don't want to go to Antarctica. I want to go to Mars.

There we have it.

And it's exactly the same with space. The public doesn't care enough to spend NASA's total budget on "earth science, telescopes, and robots". If you got rid of the astronauts, you can expect your budget to dwindle away within a decade.

Intriguing point.

What if we substituted a search for aliens as the grand goal?

And frankly, the public is right. I'm as pro-science as anybody, but space science is not something clearly worth the money. Colonization is.

Property ownership is illegal on Antarctica. So no colonization.

Maybe on paper. But if a country actually wanted to colonize it, why would it be in anyone's interest to stop them?

Bad PR.

Lots of people get upset about Brazil destroying the Amazon. Imagine the reaction to some rogue nation breaking international laws to drill for gold in the Antarctic ice

So, basically, he's pulling a Carl Sagan with less weed and more money? Color me unimpressed. This whole hero-worship thing coming out of Silicon Valley is pretty off putting.

Yes, it might be possible to colonize Mars with humans, but what did Mars ever do to us?

Counting the number of species lost seems like the wrong way to evaluate such events. After all, something like 80% of existing species are insects, and close to half of those are beetles. Is there a better metric that could be used?

There are 3 factors that are almost never factored into a viable Mars colonization plan.
1) Logistics. Food and other supplies are, of course, crucial to the long term success of any colony… anywhere. On Earth, we have the advantage of breathable air wherever we go …at least on the surface, and even underwater, we are never more than about a single mile from Air. On Mars, the loss of a single supply ship might doom the project. As for creating a biosphere on the planet that would be self sustaining… we haven't been able to do that here on Earth, even with the natural advantages that we take for granted here that would be unavailable on Mars.

2) Economics. The cost of such an adventure would be "astronomical". The only reason we were able to go to the Moon was that the government had access to far more money and resources than it does today. In the 60's, government spending consumed about 1/20th of the GDP in taxes. Today it's about 1/4… and even that isn't enough. We've doubled the national debt in the last 7 years because we spend far more than we take in. There simple isn't enough will to tax and borrow the trillions of dollars necessary to go to Mars much less colonize it. There is lots of big talk about this company or that company going to Mars and setting up a colony. It's just that, big talk. The excess capital and labor doesn't exist to colonize the far closer Moon much less Mars.

3) Politics. We went to the Moon in the 1960's for the same reason the Chinese want to go in the 2020's… Politics. We needed to show the world we had a better system than the Soviet Union did. China needs to show the world it is the top dog in the 21st century. To show the world that the USA is no longer the dominant force in the world… they are. Because of #'s1&2 above, we can't contest them on that stage. Luckily, and also because of #'s1 & 2, they have virtually no chance of making it either. The US has traded it's dreams of conquering the stars for free birth control and more food stamps. It's up to us all to decide if that is worth it.

Without birth control, there would be even more mouths to feed.

I disagree with you on the Economics. The US could re-visit the Moon for $100 billion. We spent $25 billion on the "Big Dig" in Boston. The cost of the entire F-35 fighter program is going to be the better part of $1 trillion. Going back to the Moon is chump change.

It's all about reason #3. There's no reason to go to the Moon. We've been there and done that. So at this point, it's a boondoggle.

Colonizing Mars would be much more expensive and much more difficult than returning to the moon. The technology required to colonize Mars is probably decades, if not a century or more, away.

Yes, I agree with that. I don't see any serious plans to colonize Mars before Earth has a vibrant space industry. We'll be mining the asteroids to provide supplies for space manufacturing before we'll be trying to set up a permanent colony on Mars.

I disagree. The surface of a planet, particularly one like Mars, is both much friendlier to human life than free space and more scientifically interesting to boot. Mars colonization is well within current technology. The only real issue is launch cost, and even there we seem to be making progress.

There an infinite number of things we can wait for first before colonization happens. In fact, a lot of the "vibrant space industry" that one wants to wait for will happen after there are people on Mars. Compare to waiting for intercontinental flights to be a thing before moving to the New World.

In the 60’s, government spending consumed about 1/20th of the GDP in taxes. Today it’s about 1/4

The ratio of total public expenditure to domestic product in 1965 was 0.24. Currently, that ratio stands at 0.34.

I'm also excited about eventually developing off-earth human settlements, but these reasons are pretty stupid. The whole premise is that something might make the Earth completely inhospitable to human life, so a Mars colonists would be the only people who survive. But the problem is that nobody has ever described a near-term possibility in which life on/near Earth could possibly be worse than life on Mars. Basically, there is nothing known to science which could make the Earth as shitty a place to live as Mars - not global warming, not asteroid impacts, not a spike in solar luminescence, not a pandemic, not a full nuclear war, nothing. In even the worst of those cases, we could set up an underground or underwater quarantined colonies where human life would be far more safe and comfortable than on Mars, all for a tiny fraction of the cost of Martian colony of similar capacity. If Elon Musk really were scared of surprise extinction events, he would invest in and promote building this infrastructure now. I estimate a bang-for-the-buck improvement of three orders of magnitude compared to the cost of reliably self-sustaining Martian colony.

Exactly! The relevant comparison to living on Mars isn't Antartica or Detroit NOW, it's anywhere on Earth after a plausible extinction event. Short of going full Venus via greenhouse or getting whacked with an asteroid big enough to liquefy all or most of the Earth's crust, even post-apocalypse Earth would be paradise compared to Mars.

I think the only case you can make against investing in survival infrastructure on Earth instead of a Mars Colony is it might be hard to maintain your Terran super-bunker in the long term--changes in political and economic systems might result in your giant underground store of grain and other cool stuff getting nationalized, etc. Whereas the folks living in a Martian colony have an incentive to keep things going regardless of circumstances.

The last mass extinction was 65M years ago. This should tell us there is no urgency to have a back up planet. Mars is itself incredibly hostile and new life there is more likely to get wiped out than on earth.

Bah. Humbug. If we can't make it here, we can't make it anywhere. If our descendants can't manage to produce enough to cover the real costs of sustaining human life on Earth, and they become convinced that the way to solve that problem is to relocate to Mars where such real costs are vastly vastly vastly greater, then they're going to all die, period.

Starting a Mars colony is like making a back-up copy of your entire entire hard-drive on 5,000 floppy disks from circa 1982, because you have nothing else to save it on. Now does it sound like such a great idea?

None of the previous mass extinctions did anything to me, I don't expect the next one to do anything to me either.

My advice is to focus on building a self sustaining Biosphere on Earth first. If we can make that work, then we can try building one on Mars.

I suppose if I told you that Earth has had just that for billions of years, then you would say that I had missed the point of your little joke?

But actually, what the hell point have I missed? What possible point is there to your comment except to show that your agenda -- whatever it is -- is based on an obvious fallacy?

It wasn't a joke...

If we want to colonize Mars we need to create a new ecosystem from scratch that is self sustaining. We need a full functional "Biosphere 3" project to prove that we can build one on Mars.

Others, our crops will fail and the colonists will starve/asphyxiate.


Call me a small-government tea partier if you must, but I really don't think that the government should be in the business of funding sequels to Pauly Shore movies.

A lucky few may escape to Mars. The rest of us need to pray for global warming. Notice some correlation between the History of Animal Extinctions and this timeline? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_glaciation#/media/File:Phanerozoic_Climate_Change.png

Comments for this post are closed