SpaceX founder and Twitter owner Elon Musk believes earth’s time is almost up.
Like many leading scientists, Musk believes humanity’s future lies in space.
Here’s a look at Musk’s perspective on the importance of space exploration and what he foresees as the best options for building an interplanetary future.
“Humans need to become a multiplanetary species”
Musk has made it clear that he believes humanity needs to become a “multiplanetary species” in order to escape the threat of climate change, apocalyptic asteroid strikes, global pandemics and nuclear war on earth.
By having a foot in many worlds, humanity can strengthen itself and be hardier and more diverse to survive future challenges and apocalyptic events.
Musk is particularly keen on settling Mars and has talked about setting up an 8,000 person colony there.
The idea of settling Mars has captured many imaginations in science fiction and the space exploration world, but Musk wants to make it a reality.
Previous talk about this, such as from former NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden have stressed the apparent current impossibility of a Mars mission in the past.
I filmed Bolden speaking about the prospect of Mars exploration in 2011 while I worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and he stressed that we just don’t have that kind of current capacity, nor a clear outlook to when we will.
But Musk feels differently.
Not only does he believe that exploration of the Red Planet is in our near future, he believes SpaceX will be able to begin actively developing it.
He’s also spoken about building infrastructure and greenhouses on the Red Planet, although he’s temporarily stepped back from the agricultural idea due to the astronomical costs.
In terms of exploring space and having space travel become a norm, Musk believes it’s just a matter of time and “spurring the national will.”
Musk wants space travel to become affordable and feasible for everyone in the future and become as common as taking a flight from Chicago to New York.
Musk describes space exploration and travel as vital for “establishing security for life itself and having an exciting future and inspiring kids about the future.”
Advancing towards the objective
Musk’s own company SpaceX was started in order to look at how to bring down the cost of space travel by a factor of 100 and work out how to make space travel sustainable with reusable rockets.
Since launching SpaceX in 2002, Musk has said the main thing holding humanity back is a lack of “big, reusable, reliable rockets.”
SpaceX’s Starship system uses a Super Heavy rocket booster type and is designed to be reusable.
As Musk says:
“Nobody has ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket. So just having that at all is pretty significant.”
SpaceX is a private aerospace design, space exploration and shuttle company that sends humans and satellite systems into space and has delivered crews to the International Space Station (ISS).
In September of 2021, the Inspiration 4 mission was funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who launched into space and orbited around the earth along with three other civilian crew onboard.
SpaceX is also partly funded via its internet system Starlink, which has been launching via Falcon 9 rockets and already has over 3,580 satellites in orbit as of last month.
Musk says Starlink is eventually expected to produce around $50 billion per year in revenue for SpaceX to encourage its space travel and aerospace development.
Musk’s Starship model is being developed to land on the moon and eventually send human-led missions to explore and settle Mars. He hopes to have about 80,000 people per year going to Mars to visit and some staying to settle and stay.
Specifically, Musk hopes to have a primary SpaceX Mars base set up by 2028. He has also expressed openness to helping humanity establish a moon base.
NASA says its timeline puts astronauts making first contact with Mars sometime in the 2030s.
Space: The final frontier
Musk is still more of a realist than many realize. He agrees that “more than 99% of our resources” should go toward solving problems right here on earth.
However he thinks about .5% need to be focused on space travel, exploration and eventual settlement.
Travel to Mars won’t be a walk in the park, especially at first and will be “extremely difficult and dangerous” according to Musk, but it’s necessary for humanity’s next step.
The Starship hasn’t yet been launched into space, but Musk hopes for an orbital flight sometime this year and is steadily working on improving the systems and obtaining Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval.
“We don’t have a ton of insight into where things stand with the FAA. We have gotten sort of a rough indication that there may be an approval in March,” Musk has said.
Welcome to the club
Musk is far from alone in his belief that humans must become a multiplanetary species to survive.
The late scientist Stephen Hawking believed the same, saying humanity had 100 years maximum to start living on other planets or it would go extinct.
The timeline doesn’t always line up perfectly, however.
Leading scientists and astrophysicists such as Jonathan Jiang of NASA’s jet propulsion lab say it will likely take about 200 years until earthlings are living off-planet in any significant quantity.