Space

Elon Musk Wants You To Be Able To Afford To Move to Mars

Space X gets serious about its mission to the Red Planet

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Right now, Space X founder Elon Musk is giving a Steve Jobs–style presentation of his plan for Mars colonization. It's part science lecture ("Here's a slide with the different types of rocket fuel"), part time-share presentation ("It'll be, like, really fun to go, you'll have a great time."), part TEDtalk ("Technology does not automatically improve, it only improves if a lot of really strong engineering talent is applied to the problem"), part in-joke extravaganza (the slide marked FUNDING starts with "Steal Underpants").

Here's a good writeup of what we already know about the technical specs of the mission: He's talking about a 2018 start with a 2024 manned launch to Mars building on tech Space X is already using to provision the International Space Station.

From the presentation, here are three key Venn Diagrams. They are simultaneously duh and oooh:

Space X/screenshot
Space X/screenshot
Space X/screenshot

This notion, that a vanity project for the rich could become a new frontier for the middle class, is too often overlooked. It's central to Musk's motivation and it should always have been central to our understanding of space colonization and exploration. It hasn't been, until now.

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  1. There will be an enormous round of pants shitting such as the world has never seen. ‘Hey, come back here with our stuff, you one percenters!, and when you get to Mars, half of that stuff is ours! We’re all in this together! Oh noes, now they’re going to kill Mars for profit!’

    /progderp

    1. At this point in human development, Mars is a one way trip for anybody alive today. What the progs will be able to charge in exit taxes is essentially unlimited.

    2. The “white intersection” in the third diagram needs a lable…

      I suggest “paid for by government”

  2. Knowing Musk, that intersection will be filled with taxpayer money that leaks into Musk’s pocket.

    1. That will be lost in the pants shitting tsunami.

      1. Do you feel the call of the sudden Spring?
        Do you long for the Open Road?
        Do you crave to fly with an eager wing
        To a beautiful antipode?

        Do you long for the waves and the Open Sea,
        And yearn for the Varying Shore?
        Do you burn to be free, be free, be free
        Where your soul may soar and soar?

        Do you ache for the Land of a Fairer Day?
        Are you sick of the Beaten Track?
        Do you hark to the call of the Far Away?
        Well, don’t let me keep you back.

        ~Franklin Pierce Adams

    2. Gary’s timely call for the colonization of other planets may have been an attempt to get some of Elon’s money into his campaign. Or at least to be on the short list for Governor of Mars.

      1. It’s a red planet.

    3. Indeed- there’s a whole cult of Musk these days, centered largely around Quora (representative Quora question: “How does Elon Musk manage to be both the greatest businessman ever, and simultaneously the second coming of Jesus, Elijah, and Mohammed.”)

      I respect Musk- he’s a smart guy with a fierce work ethic. And I’m inclined to think that when it comes to subsidy one should hate the game, not the player. I oppose most targeted subsidies/tax-breaks, but I’d be a fool (and would not be honoring my fiduciary responsibilities) not to take them if they’re out there. Musk goes further than that though- he’s in full-on gaming the system mode these days, and I can’t respect that.

  3. By the time I’m able to go to Mars, they’ll have renamed it “SNICKERS Almond”.

  4. I wish him success. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

  5. No one is moving to space or another planet until they are able to make a living there. They either will have to be able to produce enough value living there to pay for what they consume. Otherwise, it is a money losing proposition and it won’t last. Clearly a lot of things can be produced locally and a lot of your effort towards making a living can be directed towards extracting some kind of a subsistence from the resources available. If you want more than just a substance life, however, you are going to have to produce something that people back on earth want and will trade with you to get. What that could be is a pretty hard question to answer. Considering the cost of transport, it is very hard to imagine what a Mars colony could produce that would justify the cost of bringing it back to earth to sell. And if it can’t do that, a colony would have to be completely self sufficient. And that to me seems pretty unlikely. It is hard enough to produce the necessities like food and water and shelter, but what about consumer goods and everything else we take for granted in our lives? Are you really going to produce all of that stuff locally on Mars? If you can’t, then you better be prepared to go without or figure out a way to produce something of enough value on earth for you to trade for such things.

    In short, I am not seeing how a space or Mars Colony could be a money making or sustainable thing right now or anytime in the near future.

    1. +1 Offer not valid in Alaska, Hawaii, or Mars

      1. Economics is a harsh mistress. yeah, if you were rich enough, you could move there and live out your life on the money you made on earth, but that money won’t last forever. At some point you or your decedents are going to run out of money.

        Rich guys like Musk can put up the initial capital necessary to build a colony but if that colony doesn’t at least break even or better yet turn a profit, it will not be sustainable and eventually everyone will move back home. To me the first question that needs to be asked in these projects is “how are we going to make money once we get there”. If you can’t answer that question, you are wasting your time.

        1. Also, why not just stay in a closer place that’s way more habitable?

          Like Antarctica.

          1. It’s just isn’t as cool I guess. Although building a self-sustained Antarctic colony would be a good first step towards building a Mars colony, and if something went wrong at an Antarctic colony then at least all the inhabitants wouldn’t die horribly before being rescued.

            1. Agree that it’s not as cool.

              It does seem like the coolness aspect would wear out in years of isolation and extreme boredom.

              Here’s an even better place to live: Alaska. It has about the population of Oklahoma City in an area 1/3 of the size of the continental United States — most of it along the coast. And I bet there’s plenty of crap to do there involving the procurement and consumption of regional animals.

        2. Curious how much money did the first colonies in the new world make?

          1. Very little.

            In the early days they also tended to die alot…

            And they had the benefits that all they needed to do was to clear some land and start growing food to survive. They didn’t need advanced life support equipment that necessitated an sophisticated industrial base to supply and maintain.

            1. They also had some help from the natives along the way.

              1. And some hurt from the natives as well. Natives were always a mixed bag.

            2. Very little? Just shitloads of gold and slaves, not much value in that, I guess.

            3. The very first colonies were mainly people trying to get away from other people who were persecuting them. Hard to put a price-tag on that.

              It didn’t take _that_ long for tobacco to become a big cash crop though, and that was very profitable, as was cotton eventually.

          2. Not at lot at first but eventually a whole lot of money. There were huge amounts of resources, timber and later tobacco and other agricultural goods that the colonies were able to send back to Europe. And North America was small change compared to the Caribbean where you could grow sugar. That was where the big money was.

            Initially, they lost money. But eventually they made money. Had they not, they never would have grown like they did. So the question is what does Mars or the Moon have that it can send back to earth the way the American colonies sent back sugar and tobacco? I am not seeing any easy answers to that question.

            1. But can you really say those were the first colonies?

              When people say “first colonies”, I think of places like Roanoake (died without a trace), Jamestown (you had a better chance of surviving a winter in Auschwiz (hyperbole – I didn’t actually check the numbers)), Plymouth (nearly starved to death at first), etc.

              1. The first colonies didn’t make money and were funded by rich people in Europe. Eventually the colonies made money and paid fro themselves. Had they not, the rich people’s money would have eventually run out and the whole thing would have ended.

              2. There was also the short-lived and almost forgotten Popham colony in Maine. They have the distinction of having floated what was probably the first ship built in the New World.

                I think it’s not surprising, given the circumstances, that the first colonies did not all succeed.

            2. It would have to be mining for metals or minerals on Mars or the Moon – assuming there are any in abundance enough to be worth mining.

              1. Alternatively, you could set up Mars as sort of the ultimate offshore corporate headquarters site. Zero corporate taxes, banking privacy, no regulation…

            3. Honestly profit wise the moon is a better bet. The 4 day journey to the moon makes space tourism a real money making possibility.

              Mars has no resources that i know of that can’t be found on Earth already, unless we end up using to much of something. Europe had plenty of timber too, but they ended up deforesting enough land that it became profitable to ship timber there from North America. maybe something similar will happen here.

              1. I am willing to wager there is a shit ton of oil on Mars. No I am not kidding. Not just oil either, but all long carbon chain molecules.

                But that is beside the point. What John is being shortsighted about is value not money. Money is a representation of value but it isnt value itself. The people going know they will die there (if not on the way), they know their children will never be able to live on earth (likely), they know it will be incredibly difficult. But they aren’t going for “money” but instead for the value they place on being there. The economy of Mars, I believe, would quickly grow and self sustainability will be how it exists. Even with rich people here, there is no way they could legitimately re-supply or respond to any situation with any expediency. 9 months is always the number people throw out but what they don’t understand is that is the BEST case during the window. If Mars is on the other side of the sun you are basically fucked. It is quicker to wait for the earth to catch up than try to fly there.

                1. I am not short sighted about value at all. Value is my entire point. If you don’t produce enough value to equal what you are consuming, the colony won’t last. I am not seeing how a colony does that. Without the ability to produce something of value to export and trade with, there is no way for your children to have a better life. It is really that simple.

                  1. I’m wondering if Musk isn’t channeling D.D. Harriman from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress here.

                    “I can’t itemize the assets for you, but I can lump them. A planet, Dan. A whole planet, and with more beyond that. If you and I can’t figure out how to turn a profit from that, then we should just retire.”

                  2. I agree with yu when it comes to the short-term. I’m not bullish on people in space right now. I think we actually have the technology to establish a Mars colony in the near future, but I’m not sure we ought to. If we establish a Mars colony it will not be because we expect to profit thereby in the short-term (by which I mean several decades.)

                    On the other hand I think robotic space exploration could pay for itself in a practical window- it wouldn’t do so in a decade, but it might in less than a human lifetime.

          3. Curious how much money did the first colonies in the new world make?

            Very little. But, there was a clear proposition that money could be made – tobacco, fur, lumber….These were all things that investors in the company knew a the outset were clear paths to generating a return. The proposition with Mars is a little different. Going into the transaction your proposition for making any money out of the thing is ?????

            Don’t get me wrong. I believe man will eventually find some way of milking money somewhere other than Earth. And when we do, such colonies will sprout and thrive.

            1. The economic case for going elsewhere is that people will need space to live, work, and be productive. The economics of colonization doesn’t have to be about resource extraction.

              What is special about NYC or SF that makes living in those cities economically viable? The answer is the other people who are in proximity to you. That could happen on Mars too, and if enough of the right kind of people are driven to go there, it probably will.

              1. But, Mars would be a lousy place to do that. You could do much better with a space station.

              2. Good ports are why many coastal cities are what they are. But that is less immediately relevant to most residents’ lives than it once was.

              3. But we have plenty of space on Earth, and it is ideally suited to human habitation. For every dollar we spend making space suitable for human habitation we could spend a dollar increasing the Earth’s “carrying capacity” and get 100 times the benefit. There may be some good arguments for colonizing Mars, but extra living space is not on of them.

                And NYC and SF are so expensive because of stupid policy more than anything else.

        3. Yeah, you’d probably need some kind of massive mining operation for anything off planet to be profitable as a business proposition.

    2. Solution = Nanobots!!!

      Everything you could imagine could be built at virtually zero cost, including the colony itself. Of course we would actually have to invent nanobots first.

      Until then I don’t know. NASA still does missions to Mars perhaps there would be money to be made supporting various NASA science missions.

      As far as shipping consumer goods, if you’ve already figured out a way to send someone there at the cost of an average house, then I imagine shipping inanimate objects there would also be considerably cheaper.

      1. If we get to a post scarcity economy where we can build anything for nothing out of virtually anything, sure. But I don’t see us getting to that very soon.

        1. If we could do that why would we need to colonize other planets at all?

          We could build our own planet sized space ship fitted with all the comforts of home and the added benefit of having it travel where ever we wanted it to go.

          1. +1 Libra

          2. I actually had not considered that, but you are correct. I guess then the only reason someone would live on Mars is because they really wanted to live on Mars. Maybe some weird religious group or cult. Hmmm I think I have the plot for a sci-fi novel.

    3. Martian weed, coffee and hipster approved martinis. Marvin the Martian apparel. Martian hookers. This could be the next Libertopia! Fortunes will be made.

      1. You know how you make a small fortune with a Mars colony? Start with a large fortune!

    4. “No one is moving to space or another planet until they are able to make a living there.”

      Basically they’ll be producing habitable space to resell. That said, considering the expense and the fact that externalities will be an even greater consideration there, it’s probably more likely to be a prison colony than a billionaire play area. I can see the value of having a self-sustaining civilization off-planet, because shit happens. But that’s not really a direct value to individual earthlings or martians.

      1. Prison colony or religious colony.

      2. Ever read “A Planet Named Shayol?” I read it as a small child, and it was a formative read for me.

    5. His plan is to make Mars self sufficient, though he estimates a population of around 1 million would be needed for that (which he estimates would take 40 to 100 years to do).
      As far as the economic value of Mars, much of that (in the long term, of course) would come from trade. Because Mars is so much smaller than Earth, the Delta V needed to travel from Mars to pretty much anywhere else (including Earth’s moon) is much lower. And considering the mineral riches in the asteroid belt, that could make Mars quite rich.

  6. Buffalo billions and billions…

  7. Shouldn’t we put someone on the moon before we have people living on mars? The moons seems much more feasible, less harsh, less dangerous, and with a much quicker turnaround.

    If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t want to go to mars. But I’d be willing to go to the moon.

    1. The moon is like a crappy 1st-ring suburb.
      Downside of Mars is Venusville. That place is a little skanky

    2. I agree about the moon. A 4 day trip to the moon is a hell of a better, and cheaper then an 8 month journey to Mars. I would however be concerned about the lack of an atmosphere on the moon, and the risk of micro-meteorites. Though I supposed that is easily remedied by building a colony underground.

      1. and the risk of micro-meteorites.

        Some sort of hat is probably in order.

    3. “The moon seems much more feasible, less harsh”

      I don’t know. As a libertarian, I’ve heard that the Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    4. The moon is a lot closer, but it’s actually not as good a candidate for colonization, IMHO. Mars has a better chemical composition- the moon is pretty sterile, and could never be self-sustaining. Mars _could_ be, though it’s admittedly a stretch, and would require developing new technology.

  8. We all know that the cost of a trip to Mars would require infinite money. What Elon Musk dares to ask is: what if it didn’t?

    *transfers billions of tax dollars to Musk*

  9. This notion, that a vanity project for the rich could become a new frontier for the middle class, is too often overlooked.

    I don’t know if its ‘overlooked’ so much as its being poorly-argued via Venn Diagram.

    Not every “vanity project for the rich” is destined to become a thriving middle-class demand.

    “Cell Phones” were once a vanity/luxury item. Now people feel like they’re underclass if they can’t provide them to each of their children. With videophone capabilities.

    That’s because telecommunication provides enormous benefits to how we can manage our daily lives/stay abreast of information.

    You can’t quite say the same of space-tourism. Where’s the chart that explains “Why” someone in the middle-class would want to trade a theoretical “house” for years in a cramped spacecraft-cell just so they can say they “Saw a dead rock out in space”

    if there were any real demand for that from the public, you’d think we’d have Disney rides to the bottom of the Marianas Trench already.

    My instinct is to assume Elon Musk is a monumental-fraud whose main goal with the “Space Stuff” is to distract from the epic-scale clusterfuck of his Tesla/Solar City merger*. I don’t see anything saying why i’m wrong here.

    *(i’ve never looked closely at it, but my impression is that there’s no economic case to be made for the merger – other than to hide the glaring flaws of 2 over-valued companies by mashing them together)

    1. I can remember being in third grade asking my teacher if a “tv phone” existed and being told that the government had them. This was in the early 90s.

      1. Hmm, I remember having this same discussion with my… third grade teacher. The answer was the same. This was the late 70s.

      2. And now we all have them and communicate primarily through text messaging.

    2. SolarCity spent nearly $800 million on operating expenses in 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, essentially dwarfing its total revenue by more than half. The solar panel maker is an albatross on shareholders’ necks: It currently has more than $3 billion in long-term debt on its books; and its expenses hit $265 million by June.

      Jesus H Christ.

  10. A former classmate from my hometown got a new gig in LA doing PR for the Hyperloop. Guess where his new job is taking him. This is like the best worst idea ever. Let’s throw eleventy billion at it!

    1. Jesus, they’ll build anything in Dubai.

      1. Except Jesus.

        1. Have you seen this place?

          https://www.citigoers.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2016/05/Dubai-Palm-Island.jpg

          It’s filled with hundreds of single family homes, restaurants, etc. It’s a freaking palm tree in the sea!

          They’d do Jesus. They call him “Isa ibn Maryam” or Jesus, son of Mary. Muslim women cover for the same reason Catholic nuns do. They’re emulating the virgin Mary. It’s like they’re all nuns.

          Muslims believe that the end of time happens with the Second Coming of Jesus.

          They just don’t believe that Jesus was God.

          And they’ll build anything in Dubai. They make Las Vegas look reasonable. If alien archaeologists uncover our civilization millions of years from now, they’ll think that Dubai was a religious center–the same religion as Las Vegas, only Vegas to a lesser extent.

          And they’ll think that the people of North America worshiped a fat man in a red suit with white fur hems that we believed brought gifts once a year.

  11. We were talking about this the other day. I don’t want to repeat all of it here, but I’ll restate two points.

    1) Mars isn’t an attractive destination. Musk could build an interstellar ship headed to Proxima Centauri that’s more attractive than life on Mars. It could be more attractive to live on an interstellar ship than on Earth, too.

    2) The people who leave everything behind to go to a new world aren’t the prosperous or people with bright futures where they are. The Puritans came to the New World to escape persecution. The Germans came to the New World to escape religious wars. The Irish came to the New World because of a famine. Africans came to the New World as slaves.

    People with bright futures on earth won’t leave earth to go to Mars or to spend their whole lives on a ship to a destination world that they’ll never live to see, but people with shitty futures will–if life on Mars or aboard ship is better than what they’ve got.

    1. Musk might even look to the Georgia Colony and Australia for inspiration. Australia was a prison colony. The original settlers went their unwillingly, but their decedents are patriotic as hell.

      Musk only needs people who are willing to leave a long prison sentence behind for life on an interstellar ship. They may not care if they never get to see what’s orbiting Proxima Centauri as long as they get out of a long prison sentence. And they’re mostly just ship support and breeding stock along the ride anyway.

      Anyway, earth is a paradise for wealthy people. Expecting people with money and time to pay for themselves to go to Mars or interstellar space is like expecting them to commit suicide–because they’ll get to die in a really cool way.

      1. Traditionally, going to the “frontier” was a rough-and-tumble business, often suited to people who were either criminals or borderline criminals.

    2. It ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids.

      1. In fact, it’s cold as hell.

        Here’s my idea for a SciFi novel:

        A Musk like character builds a ship headed for Proxima Centauri and recruits prison inmates as passengers.

        It takes the ship tens of thousands of years to reach Proxima Centauri using 2017 technology. The descendants of the prisoners are reluctant to leave the ship they’ve known for all those millennia. Conflict builds up as they approach Proxima Centauri, with the conflict’s losers being the ones set to be kicked off the ship once they get there.

        Once they arrive, they find a habitable world–that’s already inhabited. In the end, they come to find that technology on earth (nuclear pulse projection) has progressed to the point where it only takes a hundred years to reach Proxima Centauri from earth–and the new world was already colonized by earthlings thousands of years before they arrived.

        1. Marvel already did this story with Vance Astro. The thing is once the colonists got to that point why didn’t they head out and pick the poor bastard up?

          1. Who the fuck is Vance Astro?

            Vance Astro can kiss my ass.

          2. Marvel? How soon we forget The Twilight Zone.

            1. That original air date was in 1964!

              How soon we forget?

              It’s been 50 years!

              Okay, so I’m not going to be the next Robert Heinlein. You’ve both successfully ruined it.

              Happy?

              *kicks pebble and walks home*

        2. There’s actually a little-known but interesting SF novel that is based on the premise of increasing travel speed. Basically humanity finds a great void in space and tries to travel through it. A large mission turns back, but its captain and a friend continue on in a smaller vessel, living together and playing chess while running down their supply of wine and cigars. Just as they die of old age a newer ship with better propulsion catches up with them, and its captain is very optimistic that _this time_ they will find what is on the other side of the void.

          1. Okay, but see in my story, the people fleeing authority to find freedom are constantly frustrated.

            The Musk entrepreneur can’t find enough middle class and wealthy people to willingly leave the authoritarian but comfortable Earth behind, so he has to resort to recruiting prisoners.

            The prisoners’ descendants end up clinging to the prison of a ship they inherited. The underclass that develops over generations eventually gets chased off the ship after a power struggle–against their will.

            Once the ship arrives at the new world, the people who were kicked off the ship find an authoritarian society that has developed over the course of tens of thousands of years after being founded by earthling colonists (who originally left Earth seeking freedom).

            In the end, one of the people who were kicked off the ship would be asked to join a group of Proxima Centauri rebels in their plan to leave Proxima Centauri behind in search of freedom. She’d turn them down, and they’d leave without her.

            Moral of the story: freedom is an eternal quest, and there’s no substitute for persuading our fellow earthlings to choose freedom. And everybody has to keep learning that for themselves over and over again.

            So it’s different, okay? So I can still sell the movie rights.

            And, besides, mine has a talking chimpanzee.

            1. Well, it is at least different. Good luck with the movie rights (but I think the talking chimp thing has been done fairly recently.)

  12. If/When Tesla goes under will Space X survive?

    1. Will man still be alive?

      1. Whose side are you on, Warren?

  13. RE: Elon Musk Wants You To Be Able To Afford To Move to Mars

    Hopefully, Mr. Musk can send Trump the Grump and Heil Hitlary to Mars this weekend.
    Or am I asking too much here?

    1. It’s Heil-ary, do you even Godwin, bro?

  14. Get yoah ahs to Mahs!

    (someone already made a Venusville joke, but this is more pertinent.

  15. *Sigh* Mars colonization, here we go again…

    It’s probably cheaper to just build a Stanford torus and park it at a Lagrangian point.

    1. So…not the same thing as a Ford Taurus?

      1. It’s roomier.

  16. That’s not a Venn diagram. At best it’s a series of Euler diagrams.

  17. Elon Musk is the poster boy for Obama’s centrally planned green economy. Any libertarian who falls for this 1950s pseudo-science, pseudo-futurist, pseudo-visionary bullshit is a pathetic, gullible, useful idiot.

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