Friday, March 24, 2017

Competing Visions (6)

Elon Musk offers a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish and why. He wants to create a city on Mars that would have a population of up to a million people. The reason is that he wants to be sure there is an "insurance policy" in case something happens to the Earth. He is concerned about an "extinction event," like an asteroid hitting our home planet.

It is hard to argue with Elon's logic. We would go to Mars as a species, then, for the same reason that we buy life insurance as individuals. Since I have to die for the insurance to be collected, I will not benefit from it, but my family will. Similarly, if this generation invests in a Mars mission, we might not benefit, but humanity will.

The other "plus" for Elon's mission is that it has worked as a way to generate public support for his vision. While most of us really don't understand rocket engines, and a lot of people don't really understand how far away Mars is, or how difficult it would be to live there, we do understand survival of our species.

The question for Elon is, "Why Mars?" Why not a settlement on the moon, which is much closer, and would accomplish the same purpose. Is it because we "have been there and done that?"

In fact, we have seen over the years that Mars holds an allure for Earthlings that is both strong and mysterious, and that may have something to do with Elon's decision to focus his attention there. It doesn't negate the "insurance policy" rationale, but it does suggest that there may be other motivations at work.

More on this topic later...

(To be continued)

Copyright, Frank White, 2017, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at and 

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