It may not be effective storytelling to give you the answer to this question in the opening paragraph, but I think the answer is obvious (and I’m hoping most of you will want to read the article anyway). It seems the real life Tony Stark of Iron Man fame, Elon Musk, has plans for disrupting more than the way we power our cars or light our homes.
So that obvious answer I was alluding to: The answer, of course, is both. We should be good stewards of the resources of the third rock from the sun that has been (mostly) so kind to us and all other life forms on this planet. I am generally a glass half-full kind of guy, but there are some doomsday scenarios out there that we will simply not be able to avoid. Right now the human race has put all its eggs in one basket with Mother Earth. Elon Musk is simply saying that it is time to “backup our biosphere” before the unimaginable sneaks up and bites us. As business continuity experts ourselves, we have to agree.
I do not need to convince most of you that we should save Earth. Musk estimates that it would probably take $10 billion to put a craft that can carry humans on the surface of Mars utilizing technology that does not even exist yet (but don’t worry, he’ll solve those problems also.) So why not spend all this money, time, energy, and brainpower to make our current home better? They say the grass is greener, but definitely not in the case of Mars. I much prefer Sonoma County over the current conditions on the surface of Mars. Elon Musk is making our current world a better place by developing technologies at Tesla and SolarCity that could eliminate our need to burn fossil fuels within the next 10-20 years.
As humans we could eliminate all excess CO2 and do any number of other things that will help preserve the quality and diversity of life on Earth, but it still would not save us from several doomsday events. A massive gamma ray burst could decimate our protective ozone layer and lead to mass extinctions of virtually all life. Despite our best efforts to track large asteroids, we still have no real plan on how we would keep this type of impact from wiping out life on our planet. Or how about the next explosion of the Yellowstone Caldera? While it would not wipe out all life on earth, it would dramatically cool our planet overnight and disrupt food production globally for decades. By the way, I promise I am a positive person by nature.
So what inspired Elon Musk to dream of creating a colony on Mars with millions of people? Many credit his fascination of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series for the inspiration. Asimov foretold of the potential for over a quadrillion humans thriving on planets far flung across the Milky Way. Mars represents the first step and our best chance because of the similarities it shares with Earth. When Earth was just beginning to support and spawn life over 4 billion years ago, Mars lost its best chance for sustaining life when it suddenly lost its magnetic field and its warm, balmy atmosphere was blown into space. There is is still plenty of H20 on Mars (although frozen) and more than ample CO2 and Nitrogen to become building blocks for life to thrive. If it were only a few degrees warmer to get things going the right direction again.
That big red rock needs to be spruced up more than a little bit, but it has tons of potential because of the elements mentioned above. NASA has a theory about how to help restore the atmosphere on Mars. It involves placing a large magnetic dipole shield between Mars and the Sun to protect it from solar winds in the magnetotail created. Over time, NASA believes that the temperature on Mars would rise approximately 4 degrees. This would be enough to melt the carbon ice trapped there and begin the greenhouse effect that would eventually allow Mars to have liquid water once again.
Plan Your Trip
So NASA has a plan to make it a bit more hospitable, and Elon spends every moment of his life thinking about how to get us there. Remember the $10 billion price tag I mentioned at the beginning of the article? Musk believes that it will eventually only cost about $200k for someone to make the 3 month trip with 99 of their friends. He said it would be “fun” hurtling over 19,000 miles per hour through space in a carbon fiber tube to get to a frozen planet. Trips would take place every 27 months to coincide with Earth and Mars being closest to one another.
Musk put it this way at a conference last fall:
“I really think there are two fundamental paths [for humans]: One path is we stay on Earth forever, and some eventual extinction event wipes us out. I don’t have a doomsday prophesy, but history suggests some doomsday event will happen.”The alternative is, become a space-faring and multi-planetary species.”
I am pretty sure at this point in my life that I will not be plunking down the cash to make that trip, but there is a pretty good chance that one of my unborn grandkids might. Elon Musk has chosen to put his money where his mouth is time and again. At this point, the smart money’s on the real life Tony Stark creating a colony on Mars.