WE DON’T NEED TO GO TO MARS (YET)

A colony on the Red Planet isn’t the so­lu­tion we need.

HWM (Singapore) - - IMPACT - By Koh Wanzi

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.

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