Mars appears to be closer than you probably think. Elon Musk says one of his rockets could be there by next year.
“Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, is ‘making good progress on the ship and the booster,’ Musk said at the South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas, where he took questions from screenwriter Jonathan Nolan. ‘I think we will be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, probably in the first half of next year. This is a very big booster and ship,’” reports Mark Chediak for Bloomberg Technology.
“Mindful of elevating expectations too high, Musk hedged a bit. ‘Although sometimes, my timelines are a little, you know …,’ he said to laughter,” writes CNBC’s Michelle Castillo.
“SpaceX's BFR rocket system is expected to have capabilities for interplanetary travel, and be fully reusable. A flight will cost less than the initial Falcon 1 flights, which Musk pegged in the $5 to $6 million range. He hopes if BFR launches, others will believe Mars travel is possible, and follow suit,” Castillo continues.
“The biggest thing that would be helpful is just general support and encouragement and goodwill. I think once we build it we’ll have a point of proof something that other companies and countries can go and do. They certainly don’t think it’s possible, but if we do they’ll up their game.”
Free enterprise at its best. And once we get to Mars — or elsewhere in space — it’s like the Wild West (presumably without indigenous people to exploit this time).
“From there, Musk says, ‘a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial resources (will be) needed because you have to build out the entire base of industry, everything that allows human civilization to exist,” writes Edward C. Baig for USA Today.
“That will be hard in places like Mars or the moon, he says, pointing out that such celestial outposts will not become an ‘escape hatch for rich people’ but rather require those with a frontier mentality.”
“For the early people that go to Mars, it will be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like (Ernest) Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers: Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive,” Baig continues.
And what will these small businesspeople be doing?
A Mars colony will include everything from “iron foundries to pizza joints to nightclubs,” Musk said, Fortune’s David Z. Morris reports. “He also speculated that ‘most likely, the form of government on Mars would be somewhat of a direct democracy,’ in which residents would vote directly on particular issues.”
A certain wariness about the prudence of Earth’s leaders seems to inform his thinking.
“His long-term plan is to put 1 million people on the planet as a sort of Plan B society in case nuclear war wipes out the human race,” writes Melia Robinson for Business Insider.
"In the event of nuclear devastation, Musk said, ‘we want to make sure there’s enough of a seed of civilization somewhere else to bring civilization back and perhaps shorten the length of the dark ages. I think that’s why it’s important to get a self-sustaining base, ideally on Mars, because it’s more likely to survive than a moon base.”
Indeed, despite the aggressive timeline, Musk is hardly looking at the future through rose-tinted lenses. His thoughts about artificial intelligence actually seem to be getting a shade bleaker. In fact, according to the headline in Deadline|Hollywood, they “make Stanley Kubrick look like an optimist.”
“‘I’m close to AI and it scares the hell out of me,’ Musk said. ‘It’s capable of vastly more than anyone knows, and the improvement is exponential,’’’ writes Dawn C. Chmielewski. “Musk cited the example of AlphaGo, Google DeepMind’s artificial-intelligence program. The AI had been trained to tackle the Chinese game Go, which is a 2,000-plus-year-old abstract war simulation.
“In 2016, Google announced that its program had defeated every other Go-playing software — and a formidable human opponent, Fan Hui, a European champion. Then, it bested the world champion, Lee Sedol, four games out of five, in a competition that was live-streamed on YouTube.”
Musk has, of course, been heard on this subject before.
“Here at SXSW — a tech, culture, and marketing extravaganza where people are ostensibly excited about the future — Musk’s words provided a stark deviation from the overhyped prognostications about how tech will change the world for the better. In some ways, it also feels like Musk is only ratcheting up his rhetoric on these subjects,” writes Nick State for The Verge.
But it there’s one thing Musk is, as he proved again yesterday in a duet with his brother at 1:10 or so of this video of his Q&A yesterday, it’s audacious.