There may not be a more prominent promoter of the idea that humanity should go to Mars than Elon Musk. But Musk is once again in the news for admitting, though not for the first time, the truth about his dream: “A bunch of people probably will die” in the process.
Musk made the comments during an interview with XPrize founder Peter Diamandis last week, adding about the journey: “It’s uncomfortable. It’s a long journey. You might not come back alive.”
“We won’t make anyone go,” he added. “Volunteers only.”
Musk has been talking about his interplanetary ambitions for two decades: The founding mission of his hard-driving — and thus 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 (and so far blowing up) early, uncrewed iterations of a Starship vehicle that Musk hopes will be capable of the arduous trek, though no one has been injured.
He acknowledged, however, that 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 to assemble a crew for the first-ever excursion to the Antarctic.
“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success,” the purported advertisement, to which Shackleton is said to have received more than 5,000 replies, read. But historians have questioned the legitimacy of the ad and its surrounding lore.
SpaceX’s plans for a Mars settlement bring up numerous technological, political, and ethical questions. One of the most challenging hurdles may also be financial, and SpaceX is likely still many, many years from developing all the technology such a settlement would require.