WE DON’T NEED TO GO TO MARS (YET)
A colony on the Red Planet isn’t the solution we need.
The heady winds of technological progress are quite irresistible. This past September, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk shared a major update on his plans to colonize Mars at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia.
It was meant as a follow up to a previous talk he gave at 2016’s IAC conference in Mexico, where he rst unveiled the Interplanetary Transport System, or as Musk likes to playfully call it, the Big F**king Rocket (BFR).
The latter name is fun, but it underscores the outsize proportions of Musk’s ambitions, and those of many of his Silicon Valley peers. The BFR moniker sounds blissfully simple and easily grasped by the general public, but it also sounds pretty crazy, and that’s the problem with many of Musk’s grand schemes.
His plans are big, but they ultimately feel like they’re better suited for some sort of whimsical, alternate reality. SpaceX continues to demonstrate admirable success in ying, landing, and reusing its Falcon 9 rockets, but is this really the most pressing problem that needs solving?
At this year’s IAC, Musk proposed putting all of SpaceX’s resources into building the BFR, eventually deprecating most of its existing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. He even said that the same system could be used for city-to-city travel on Earth, by rocket.
This, and Musk’s other projects such as the Hyperloop and the Boring Company, are without doubt visionary. They’re bold new ways of doing things, but they require too radical a change that won’t necessarily benefit large sections of the populace.
That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t happen, but it also highlights the uncomfortable fact that all these enterprising minds are being put to work on solving problems for themselves.
It’s difficult to see the average person worrying about there being a second home for humanity. On the other hand, Musk, off on his own rarefied plane, thinks that it’s essential to the survival of the human race. Google talks about antiaging research with Calico, but for many people, the problem is simply getting access to affordable, quality healthcare.
In San Francisco itself, where many of these cutting-edge rms are based, rising sea levels is a very real problem. So is the widening income gap between rich and poor, and the prohibitively high cost of home ownership.
Unfortunately, solving income inequality or world hunger doesn’t sound as exciting or as inspiring as going to Mars or defying death. But what can one do? Perhaps we can start by not treating every Falcon 9 landing as news.