Last night Ru and I lay on the sofa in my lounge watching Elon Musk deliver his keynote speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara Mexico.
Outside the night sky was filled with stars, their light reaching us from unimaginable distances; and the moon was just poking out from behind a passing cloud. Although we cannot see it we know that our atmosphere exists to protect us, shrouding us from harmful radiation and the weight of a vast, dark universe.
Musk was talking about leaving our beautiful planet behind, and heading out into space.
The topic of this talk- manned space missions to Mars in the next 10 years, and the eventual emigration of a million people to the red planet, in order to become a truly interplanetary species and ensure the survival of the human race.
Just another geeks wet-dream right? Well, actually, maybe not.
Confirming the continuation of mankind is Elon Musks underlying and driving goal, and he has often postulated that since the eventual extinction of humanity is a real and likely threat, via any number of possible end of world scenarios, we must look for ways to make sure humanity will live on past such events.
And at the moment he appears to be single-handedly pushing forward this agenda and this way of thinking, and also re-conceptualising the entire possible future of mankind.
Pretty good going for a man who started his first company in 1995 with $28,000 of his dads money.
Since then he had gone from strength to strength, founding Paypal, Tesla, and now SpaceX, to name a few of his biggest ventures.
Musk has managed to secure a bi-partisan agreement in Congress for a significant new budget for NASA and an official mandate to send a manned spacecraft to Mars in the next 25 years. This is absolutely massive, as although Mars missions have been have been rattling around on the back-burner of NASA policy since the 70’s, there has been no concerted, focused drive from them or the US government.
Elon Musk has made it possible; he has made a reality out of all of the various different theories, dreams and ideas.
He said, in his speech, that he wants to make the idea of colonising Mars seem d0-able for a new generation of thinkers in our life-time; he wants to take the idea out of the realm of sci-fi, and showcase how it could be done for real, and how that process would begin and then progress.
He wanted to inspire and amaze the common folk like my boyfriend and I (which he definitely did; we were both blown away by the presentation and the idea of imagining real human life on Mars), but also to throw down the gauntlet to other commercial corporations and space-tech developers.
He wants other’s to get on board with his vision, in the hope that competition and collaboration would lead to further innovation and development. He has stated that he will rescind certain patents which relate to space tech, thus allowing other companies to develop spacecrafts and rockets using his designs, without wasting time developing tech which already exists.
He isn’t profit driven: he is a man with a vision.
When asked, will you be the first man on Mars, he replied that although he would like to be, his fears for the future of his company would probably hold him back because the risk of mortality would be high, and his worst nightmare would be the wrong hands getting onto SpaceX, and prioritising profit over the mission, once he wasn’t around any more to promote it.
As I previously stated, at the moment he seems to be a one man band; pretty dam effective, but fairly lonely in the scope of his dream, optimism and drive.
My boyfriend has been the one to get me excited about SpaceX, Elon Musk and the possibility of a new interplanetary humanity. It seems wild to think about, and for me calls up images I guess I hold in my mind from various sci-fi series and films; Star-Wars, Interstellar and Alien.
The possibility that these scenes may move out of the realm of fiction and into reality, within my life-time, is mind-blowing and so very very exciting! (except Alien, hopefully that won’t become too real). Because the truth is that thousands of years ago the idea of crossing the Atlantic was seen as a massive undertaking, and only within the realm of adventurers and trail-blazers.
Then we took to the skies and learnt to fly when we had never assumed to be so bold before; and then that became common-place and mundane, and we dared to sight our sights on the moon and beyond.
Space, the final frontier- as the voyages of the star trek enterprise reminds us. It seems that space travel is getting possible again; we may no longer be a single planetary species, and we may be able to look up into the night sky and know that there are other humans out there, 54.6 million km away on a dusty red planet, living out their lives like us on earth.
What would life on Mars be like? Musk has promised that the trip there wouldn’t be cramped or boring, and there would be zero-gravity games to play, and other distractions to occupy the brave travellers over their 90-150 day journey.
One would assume therefore, that once his plan is complete the Mars colony would be extensive and comfortable, with work, leisure activities and all the distractions required to make it satisfactory for its inhabitants.
But still, what would it be like? To wake up on Mars, look out of your ‘space window’ and see a rusty red landscape, which was intriguing in its alien nature, but inhospitable to a human who just wanted to go outside for a breath of fresh air. I imagine it would feel baffling at first, to comprehend how far you were from everything you knew previously; how far you were from friends and loved ones, but also the familiar and known landscapes of earth.
How will this colonisation process affect us as a species, how will it make us think about our scope, potential and place in the universe?
I think it will inspire and uplift us; to contemplate those people living so many light years away. Though the nagging little voice of realism in my head says that it would become “normal” very quickly, and that continued enthusiasm would need to be encouraged through education and culture.
Because it is something which has the power to inspire, and that, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of Musks interplanetary dreams.
Saving the human race is definitely up there, don’t get me wrong; but the whole endeavour and scale of his visions is breathtaking and motivational in the sense that it encourages us to dream outside of the box, it encourages us to wonder a little further, and think a little bigger.
There are those who are sceptical, about a whole range of things including funding for the development stage of the project, and the nitty gritty practicalities of actually building a world on Mars. There are definitely a lot of details which still need to be ironed out, and issues which still need to be resolved.
Personally, I hope that the focus doesn’t entirely shift from actually trying to save this planet before we move onto the next one. It would make me so sad to think that we didn’t have a good go at developing sustainable, renewable energy sources here, and clean up our act with regards to maintaining the integrity of the whole earth wide eco-system.
Musk, however, also owns Tesla, and does seem to care about such earth-level issues. I don’t get the impression that he is going to give up on attempting to shift the culture on earth towards clean, sustainable energy generation and usage, even while he plans for possible future outcomes.
So although there are those voices of criticism and uncertainty, there are also those who are giddily excited.
Watching Musk’s speech, Ru and I could sense the excitement in the crowd, and we were both very much drawn to Musk himself. As we watched from the comfort of my sofa, we were both moved to consider whether we would want to take the leap across space and start a new life for ourselves, and our species, on another planet.
I think it’s awesome that there is such an enthusiastic and driven figurehead for such an important endeavour. Musk seems to be gradually morphing into somebody who is bigger than SpaceX, bigger than Tesla- a brand in himself and a source of inspiration and motivation.
Which is handy, because he may be the man who sets the most important plan for mankind into motion.