Elon Musk is once again in the news for admitting the truth about his dream of humans exploring Mars by saying: “A bunch of people probably will die” in the process.
Musk told XPrize founder Peter Diamandis in a CNN interview, “It’s uncomfortable. It’s a long journey. You might not come back alive.”
“We won’t make anyone go,” he laughed. “Volunteers only.”
Musk has been talking about his interplanetary ambitions for over 20 years. The founding mission of his so far largely successful rocket company SpaceX was to eventually create the technology necessary to shuttle humans to and from Mars.
The company is currently testing to destruction uncrewed prototypes of a vehicle called Starship that Musk hopes will one day be capable of taking people to Mars.
Colonising Mars will be dangerous and ridiculously expensive. Musk wants to do it anyway.
He has frequently talked about the inevitable dangers of life on Mars but hopes to one day live on the red planet.
He told a virtual conference in August that there’s a “good chance you’ll die” on a SpaceX mission to Mars.
Such risk predictions accord with historical human spaceflight initiatives. Three astronauts died in a fire during ground tests during Nasa’s Apollo programme last century, and 14 other astronauts were killed during the Space Shuttle era in the Columbia and Challenger disasters.
He says assembling the crews for the first Mars missions will be “like that ad for Shackleton going to the Antarctic”, referring to a newspaper ad that British explorer Ernest Shackleton supposedly placed in a newspaper at the turn of the 19th century when he sought crew members for the first-ever trek to the South Pole.
The ad read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.”
Shackleton is said to have received more than 5,000 replies.
Like the Antarctic, Mars is an exceedingly lethal place to visit and humans will need constant protection.
The planet’s surface is so low in atmospheric pressure that a person’s blood would boil if they were exposed to the elements. That means settlers will permanently need to live in air-tight habitats or clunky spacesuits to keep them alive.
Still, Musk said SpaceX is aggressively moving forward with its plans to develop the necessary rocket technology, because he believes that establishing a human settlement on Mars will be crucial for humanity’s long-term survival.
Last year, he proposed an aggressive timeline of getting the first crew to the surface by 2026.
Should Earth become uninhabitable due to natural or man-made disasters, he says, having a back-up planet will be humanity’s best chance.