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A Salute to Audacity

“I will put millions of people on Mars,” says Elon Musk, in a recent New Scientist interview.

Sit back and think about that a minute. And repeat it to yourself. A self-made billionaire who’s revolutionizing space travel and reinventing the automobile has now said, “I will put millions of people on Mars.” It’s like something out of a Heinlein story, from an era when we actually still believed that humankind could go forward, that science wasn’t a Catch-22, and progress was not some silly notion that never actually happened.

And think about what it means if it actually happens.

“Well, Musk probably wants the millions of people up there as slaves,” the cynics will say. “He’s an evil capitalist, nothing good ever comes of them. Probably needs the low-income workers for the factories he’ll put up there. Soon we’ll be competing with cheap Martian imports!”

Or, your internal refrain might go something like this. “Why’s he bothering when we have all these problems down here on earth? Wouldn’t the money be better spent uplifting our own population?”

And some will say, “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, because Musk is a terrible person, I heard he did XYZ!”

Well, I’ll tell you why it’s not about slaves, and why Musk isn’t bothering, and why even imperfect humans (you know, like every single one of us) can and should do the most amazing things they can. It’s because we stand at a very special place in history. We can either start thinking big again, or we can chain ourselves into a one-world prison. One world, one set of resources, one set of chances. Or many worlds, many resources, many chances.

And I for one think we need a new frontier. In this pressure-cooker world, are we at each others’ throats more and more simply because there’s no way for the more adventurous to get away? Is it because everything is too planned, too safe? Is it something programmed into us over millions of years? There’s powerful evidence that early human ancestors’ upright posture was to provide a more energy-efficient way of getting around. We were literally born to walk, to run, to explore. To see past the next hill, and discover what’s in the next valley.

Maybe this is one of the single most powerful things driving us? What if our love of travel and speed has its roots in our evolutionary past? What if we need to keep going, even after we’ve explored every inch of this planet?

“Crazy ravings of a marginal science fiction author,” you might say. Or, deep down, you might look out your window, at the horizon, and feel the pull of what lies beyond.

No matter the case, my hat is off to Elon Musk. I’d really enjoy buying him a drink someday. And perhaps talking about how the low end of his Mars trip budget lines up well with what I had in mind for Winning Mars.

December 24th, 2011 / Comments Off



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