To Mars, Mr. Musk?

This is an excerpt of Head there for the full read.

Want to go to Mars? Elon Musk believes you can—and that the future of our species is dependent upon it.

In a sprawling demo chock full of hot visuals, he laid out his plan to build a giant interplanetary spaceship that would ferry the first Mars colonists with their new dwelling. Larger than a Saturn V, workhorse that is celebrated is ’sed by the Apollo program, his rocket would be capable of transporting equipment and four times more people into orbit. Fuel would come individually on tanker craft, and only would the Mars fleet depart when the planets were correctly aligned. Musk said that eventually up to 1,000 such ships would be in service.

Terraforming Mars. It’s not that difficult.
The audacious goals were backed up with little, ever-so-titillating details. Earlier this week, SpaceX test-fired a Raptor engine, 47 of that will go on the chief booster rocket. A team from SpaceX had constructed the ship’s enormous carbon fiber fuel tank. In one chute they stood in a hangar, dwarfed beneath it.

It was made to feel around the corner. But Musk left out only a few details that were important or glossed over.

The subject of financing the whole thing did come up and strangely enough Musk didn’t suggest folding a Tesla-SolarCity mashup company into SpaceX. Instead he said that his personal wealth, earnings from SpaceX’s commercial launches, and a tremendous (and dim) “public-private partnership” with authorities of the world would be needed to see the project through.

One of the more telling moments of Musk’s appearance followed that. During the Q&A session that he, Musk let slip with a flash of unguarded hubris ’d name the first Mars-bound ship Heart of Gold. It’s an adorable Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference, but in addition, it reveals that he actually sees this as his project, not all of humankind’s —no matter how much assistance or money he gets from elsewhere.

Interesting comparison, but does Musk know something we don’t? Are there a group of Martians out there right now, constructing boats that will fly toward Earth, and we’re going to meet in the asteroid belt?

As the session wound down, it was clear that most of the crowd had come to fawn over Musk instead of to engage in any serious discourse about the practicalities of building a colony, getting people to Mars, and getting them back. “Questioners” turned out to be folks hawking their startups to the Great Man. One woman asked if he desired to “go upstairs for a good luck kiss.”

Still, one cannot fault Musk for dreaming big, or many of us for wanting to believe he might be on to something. He has, on ol’ Earth that was grubby, achieved a tremendous amount down here in the end. Maybe it will be as he says if he can manage to get us to the next planet from the sun, and we’ll all be better off.