“…on the Road to Mars?” Musk


"In 2018—just two years from now—SpaceX plans to land the heaviest spacecraft ever sent to Mars on the planet’s surface, and to repeat these (uncrewed) landings at every available launch opportunity, or every 26 months. Meanwhile, the company will be developing the largest rocket ever built (Musk doesn’t have a generic name yet, but wants to call the first one “Heart of Gold,” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), which will be ready for booster tests by 2019 and Earth-orbit trials a year later. Once that’s done, SpaceX’s interplanetary ship—capable of carrying at least 100 people or 450 tons of cargo—could be ready to start taking the first settlers to Mars by 2024, although Musk calls that optimistic. Tickets for the journey will cost an estimated $200,000. Over time he sees a million people living on Mars, with fleets of 1,000 ships making the trip in as little as three months, or even, eventually, 30 days."  Air and Space


We have some very technologically adept people on SST.  Let's discuss the plausibility of this.  pl        


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150 Responses to “…on the Road to Mars?” Musk

  1. ISL says:

    Dear Colonel, I do not see it happening without a space elevator, and thus its telling that Elon is not strongly investing in that direction – which to me means that it is not in the near future. I think it could be in my lifetime if it received serious investment.

  2. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Not biologically feasible.
    Human life, indeed all life on Earth, is intimately influenced by the gravitational and electromagnetic fields at Earth’s surface. Mars has no magnetic field and its surface gravity is 1/3 of Earth’s. It is not just that human fetuses would be unviable or born defective, it is likely that the long-term health of adults is also in jeopardy (bone density loss, in analogous manner to the effects suffered by long-endurance space flight astronauts).
    But Musk can talk a good talk and get money out of people… Just look at his unviable Tesla Motors…

  3. michael brenner says:

    How about getting us from Rockland County to Hoboken safely for $12.50? My nephew who takes that train daily has contained his enthusiasm about a Cook’s tour of the solar system.

  4. sillybill says:

    “Tickets for the journey will cost an estimated $200,000.”
    Dehydrated food, water and oxygen are extra of course. And what’s the surcharge for extra carry on bags?
    Will the settlers be considered employees of SpaceX? Will they still be citizens of the nations they came from? I wonder what kind of political system will be put in place.

  5. Sam Peralta says:

    Why Mars? It would mean living in some kind of controlled environment. So, why not just a space city?
    Also, what is this fascination with living in cramped quarters, zero gravity, etc? Why not just send robots to extract something useful for us on earth? And find distant planets that have a similar atmosphere.

  6. kao_hsien_chih says:

    It will be both very risky, very expensive, with no obvious prospect for sustainable gains. If someone pulls off a fairly minimal Mars landing (and recovery of the astronauts), it will be a huge one time boon to his/her/their prestige, for the short term, but I don’t see how any sane person would consider shipping 100 people or hundreds of tons of cargo to Mars as anything halfway realistic. The technology may or may not be there (to pull it off reasonably safely–the technology to pull it off at big risk is already there). But how will pay for it?
    For now, SpaceX is indulging in publicity stunts because near-earth space tourism may well be a reasonably cost-effective venture soon enough and there is good money to be made subcontracting for NASA (ironically because gov’t is still spending a lot of money on manned space programs, even if it’s not building its own rockets. If SpaceX or whoever tries to get to Mars, it will be because NASA has a Mars program with a big budget, except it’ll bring in pvt contractors instead of running its own program.

  7. Valissa says:

    Glad to see a big name like Musk bringing attention to travel to Mars.
    The Mars Society has been working on this since 1998. They have many smart engineers and scientists contributing to research and planning. They run ‘living on Mars’ simulations annually in the arctic and in the Utah desert and much more. http://www.marssociety.org/
    We have been donating to the Mars Society for many years. Since the US Gov has gotten out of the space travel business, the dream goes on elsewhere.

  8. mike allen says:

    I believe it is theoretically possible, the old Saturn launch vehicle had a payload of over 150 tons and that was designed and built back in the 1960s. But there are massive engineering challenges ahead to make a 450 ton payload vehicle happen. Could they do it by 2024 only eight years away. I agree with Musk that 2024 would be optimistic. Extremely so!
    Musk’s ‘Falcon Heavy’ launch vehicle, which is still under development, would only be capable of boosting a 54 ton payload to low earth orbit. His 2024 planetary ship payload of 450 tons is an order of magnitude above that.
    But I wish him luck.

  9. RE Silc says:

    Will this be before or after they invent smellivision?

  10. Allen Thomson says:

    It’s not just the reusable booster which is, as others note, mind-boggling ambitious. But Musk has something of a track record for doing that kind of thing, so I’ll cede him getting there in the 2020s. But after that, there’s the whole long-duration life support question, which will require systems considerably beyond any we have today. (Same’s true for NASA’s Journey to Mars.) Those systems will have to be developed and, hopefully, tested and demonstrated on something like full scale. Doable, but it won’t be cheap and it won’t be fast.
    The other thing I wonder about is the money. 100 $200k tickets bring in $20 million, which is considerably less than the cost of a Falcon 9 launch today. How’s Musk going to finance this venture?

  11. Will says:

    the following article explains the economy of scale on Musk’s big fxking rocket idea. Lots of illustrations and videos
    the interesting thing about mars to me is 1/3 of the gravity. Will there be taller people with weaker bones? The rocket ticket price depends on massive reusable rockets, some space assembly, and fuel production on Mars for the return trips. The timeline is the year 2025 for the first trip.

  12. Will says:

    Also, Jeff Bezos has his own Mars expedition plans. Good, competition speeds development.

  13. jld says:

    No, the “best” disability is a nearly total lack of atmosphere, about %1 of the one on earth, thus pressurized space suits and oxygen bottles all day long.
    I am dumbfounded that such a raving mad idiocy as “colonizing Mars” gets any credit.
    But morons are everywhere, did you know that a prankster suggested to drill holes in the iPhone 7 for the missing jack and that some tried?

  14. jld says:

    There are “massive engineering challenges” just to replicate the Saturn V, same for the Concorde BTW.
    Is this seems strange to some recall that highly technical products critically depend on a very specific, rich and large substrate of special purpose tools, this is called “Fabricatory Depth”:

  15. Jimmy_W says:

    Why doesn’t he try to assemble the spacecraft in orbit, instead of boosting the whole thing to orbit in one lift?

  16. John Minnerath says:

    It’s disappointing to read so many negative comments about such an endeavor.
    Will Space-X do it?, in the time frame they propose? The odds are against them, but it will happen.
    These same doubts and fears, of the new and unknown plague humanity.
    Every new development, probably from the use of fire to space travel and deep sea habitats has been ridiculed and condemned.
    I’m glad to see there are still some who look to go to new frontiers.

  17. b says:

    Sounds very off to me. I also have a hunch that Musk is a great salesman but not so much a man who could ever run a steady business.
    The 200,000 per travel is probably for the millionth passenger flight. For the earlier ones one will have to append a few zeros.
    The upfront costs and first trial risks are huge. The risk to the later passengers is also big. The Space Shuttle was build with with a calculated 1-total-failure-per-100-flights risk. It pretty well hit that target. What is the risk factor of Mars flights? 1 in 5?
    But maybe Musk can scam the U.S. gov and NASA into financing the thing.

  18. A Pols says:

    Techno-Triumphalist fantasy to “La Sixieme Puissance”….

  19. Joe100 says:

    And Solar City – I suspect few investors read the footnotes in SC’s 10Q!

  20. LeeG says:

    I agree completely. It’s one thing to create an environment for a few people to survive in a deadly environment at great cost but it’s a totally different task for a few people, let alone a self sustaining population to thrive in a deadly environment.

  21. Daniel Nicolas says:

    I watched his presentation. The elephant in the room was addressed: to do what he all of what he proposes would require funding upwards of ~$10B for their part of this alone. He pitched the project as a very likely to be a Public-Private partnership, but left it open as far as where the funds would come to aggressively pursue this goal. Their existing Falcon 9 and soon to be Falcon Heavy rocket systems, along with their Dragon 2 and Red Dragon capsule systems appear to be the baseline plausable effort without outside funding options.
    The key part of the presentation is that they picture themselves as a small part of a much larger Space / Mars business ecosystem. They want to be the transportation part of things. Many others will need to catch the vision and spend billions on building a colony on Mars.
    I think they can do much of what they propose, and if he is as dedicated to this goal as it sounds, Musk might even sell Tesla to GM/Ford to close the gap if it appears that the federal government isn’t willing to go with him on this. Even still, you can have regular missions every 2 years going to Mars, but if he cannot get other people and countries to buy into the idea of building a peaceful business community in space the idea of having a huge colony on Mars is dead on arrival.
    You could build a train to the North Pole, but will people want to move there?

  22. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    You all might remember that, one cannot even repair or duplicate the 16″/50 caliber Mark 7 guns of Iowa class battleships in this FaceBook age.
    These are truly amazing devices: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16%22/50_caliber_Mark_7_gun
    Once the production capability is gone, it is very, very, very hard to get it back. One day our lords and masters and their followers will learn this the hard way.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  23. Valissa,
    Good to hear about the Mars Society. I remember my friends and I designing spaceships and space stations back in the glorious days of the space race in the 60s. We built models of all the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules and engaged in model rocketry. I miss the enthusiasm and optimism of those days. It’s in our nature to explore the unknown As the Vikings said, “Bundìn er bàtlaus mađur.” (Bound is boatless man.)
    I applaud Musk’s vision. In addition to some of the unique technical aspects of the project, I find the concept of a larger group of explorers/colonizers to be a real plus. This is quite a departure from the usual handful of astronauts in most plans. I think this larger group would solve a host of possible social/psychological problems associated with such a long and dangerous endeavor.

  24. Jack says:

    I’m sure a bg part of this is to sell sizzle to the public while he gets Uncle Sam to fund his commercial rocket program. That’s been his MO at least with Tesla and Solar City. Maybe all he’ll have to do is give a few million to the Clinton Foundation.

  25. John Minnerath,
    I share your disappointment. What’s life without overcoming technical and physical challenges, facing danger square in the eye and exploring the unknown. I’m sure you remember this old jody:
    He knew the world was round-o,
    He knew it could be found-o,
    That calculatin’, navigatin’, son-of-a-bitch, Colombo.

  26. Martian Shill says:

    It might be worthwhile to think about the fact that the officers of a UK Trident crew just off a 3-month voyage got drunk and trashed a navy bar & cinema. How are all these people going to get along for the 2-year journey and for the rest of their lives living in domes in absolute dependence on some technology or other? Especially since they’re probably not the happiest most well-adjusted people on earth. It only takes a visit to Alaska to see that the frontier attracts the weird and unstable. Think about cabin fever. Think about the fact that humans like fighting with each other.

  27. mike allen says:

    jld –
    first time I had heard that term, but it sounds right to me. and not just the large substrate of special purpose tools but also the skills and training to build and use those tools.

  28. Lars says:

    The “home of the brave” would definitely relocate. I would not bet against Elon Musk or his competitors. In the meantime, I will enjoy watching the efforts from my balcony.

  29. hans says:

    Without dreams, we’re just ants. Musk is doing humanity a favor by lifting our eyes. We need thousands more like him. How about getting that video played in every school room in America? I’ll chip in $50, for starters.

  30. jld and IZ,
    You’re both talking about tool and die makers. They’re the ones who build the tools to solve those massive engineering challenges. My father built the machines used to create the jet engines at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. One of my brothers apprenticed there and made a lucrative career repairing machines up and down the east coast. They understand the very souls of the various metals of our world.

  31. John Minnerath says:

    ” It only takes a visit to Alaska to see that the frontier attracts the weird and unstable”
    Maybe you should avoid places like Alaska and stay in some humdrum lower 48 suburb. Surrounded by like minded cubical worker drones.
    My 10 years in Alaska, mostly in the Arctic showed me that those people are Salt of the Earth and enjoy what they have to the fullest.

  32. John Minnerath says:

    I still remember siting in my room with my ear glued to an earphone listening for the beep of Sputnick on my crystal radio.
    Yes, and then on to building models of all the early spacecraft and somehow surviving the numerous fires and explosions of our model rockets.

  33. Ian says:

    I wonder what kind of political system will be put in place.
    International treaties (esp. the Outer Space Treaty of 1967) currently forbid any entity from claiming ownership of real estate off-Earth. It’s a major problem for enterprises like asteroid mining that might otherwise be economically viable with current technology. Why prospect for minerals when there is no legal barrier to claim-jumping? The Outer Space Treaty might pose a legal problem for the colonists getting permission to launch.
    A permanent human colony once established might face fewer legal problems. It could presumably declare independence, a claim defensible under the UN Charter (self-determination of peoples) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (right not to be denied a nationality).
    That won’t give the colony anything to eat, to breathe, or to export to Earth in exchange for spare parts. I’m not seeing a plausible answer to those problems.

  34. Ian says:

    Competition speeds development of economically viable enterprises.

  35. Abu Sinan says:

    If it is to be a created and artificial environment, why Mars and not some closer location?

  36. Dubhaltach says:

    In reply to The Twisted Genius 30 September 2016 at 02:56 PM
    If you’re not familiar with the ESA proposals for a lunar village there’s a report here: European Space Agency unveils ‘lunar village’ plans as stepping stone to Mars – Telegraph.
    The British Inteprlanetary Society have a briefing page here: Moon Villages Proposed.

  37. Kooshy says:

    I don’t even see why we should leave earth, and colonize another planet unless the bad old Putin is going to take over the whole thing for himself. But the electric car works, I have one and it saves a lot of money on gas which is good thing.

  38. Degringolade says:

    I truly hope that the guy can pull it off.
    If he does, it will be a hell of a feat, but truth be told, the cards are stacked against it. First and foremost will be the big three. Food, Water, and Energy. 54.6 million kilometers is a pretty long way to be hauling supplies, so they will have to get out of that game damn quickly if they are to pull this off.
    One of the first things to do is find and mine water and figure out how to store it. Second is to figure out how to raise crops to feed the folks. One of the things that folks don’t talk about is how much sun Mars receives. Plants need water and sun.
    The last issue that they will have to deal with is getting the soil so that it can grow something. From what I can see from the data coming out of the rovers working there now is that the soil is sterile. What will it have in the way of nutrients necessary for plant growth.
    Energy might be the easiest to deal with. Nuclear is the way they will have to go, but getting permission to lob fuel in a rocket to mars might not go down well here on of Terra.
    All of these could have technical solutions, but getting a working system together where all of them are reliably addressed is pretty damned ambitious.
    I really hope the guy can pull it off, but that is one tough row to hoe.

  39. Sans racines says:

    Musk is a real innovator, Americans should be proud. When fossil fuels wind down we’re going to be on fusion, wind and wave, geothermal and solar. A few fission reactors will remain. What Musk did was to make electric cars cool and acceptable, he even solved the infrastructure problem – he’s thinking ahead of the curve and filling the voids. Add this battery in the home and you’ve got distributed resilience – you can cope with fluctuations in your supply and generate/ store locally.If hyperloop works that will be another game changer. In the 2020s I’d like to see him do the first commercial fusion reactor, governments are dragging their feet, all that is needed is funding to get ITER done as fast as possible. As for Mars there’s a lot of interesting tech that could be developed to stimulate American manufacturing – you’ll need a sturdy shelter, lightweight, with wind, solar and storage, water and waste management. Sounds like an erect-yourself house – I’d have bought one in my 20’s had there been one. You’ll also need automated compact greenhouses – I’d get one of those as the difference between what you grow and the crash-resistant varieties in the shop is enormous… So even if they don’t make it to Mars immediately the potential benefits to American society and its economy could be huge.

  40. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg says:

    I guess we’re just old fashioned. I remember when suddenly space exploration was off the table and we were supposed to get really worked up about turning the space program into what amounts to sending cameras around to take pretty pictures. And suddenly the assertion that we need to ‘fix the world we have before we go out to any others’. We’re talking about humans here. We aint fixing nothing, obviously. May as well go exploring before the the next planetesimal impact. Which is probably about due.

  41. Imagine says:

    Insanely difficult but seems theoretically doable, although he might end up slipping the schedule a bit.
    The first magic trick is making a reusable rocket that can land and take off again. He’s already demonstrated proof-of-concept on this. This is required so as not to maroon astronauts on Mars. It also amortizes the cost of rocket boosters over several missions.
    2nd magic trick is refueling the main shuttle rocket in space as we do with air-to-air inflight refueling currently, so it doesn’t have to carry up all of its own fuel on the first pop upstairs. This is done with reusable tanker rockets. See #1.
    3rd big magic trick is going to be mining water and manufacturing liquid oxygen and methane on Mars, to create enough fuel for the trip back. This is going to be insanely difficult. It will require liquid-oxygen mini-factories, with honking big solar cells to run them. And I’m not enough of a geologist to know how to mine ice in rocks on Mars. That part would probably be done by robots, and realistically I guess it would take perhaps six years to design, test, and build a production-level custom ice-mining robot if someone doesn’t have it already. So that blows the schedule pretty much right there. Maybe three years on a double hurry-up, if you’re a billionaire. Maybe. So insanely difficult, but still theoretically doable.
    Rockets will have perhaps a 20% chance of blowing up, because they are so complex, which will tend to dampen enthusiasm slightly which could affect funding. He could get this down to around 5% with practice by the time people are set to launch. It will not stop adventurers.
    Growing food is going to have to be another magic trick for the long run. You can’t run a colony on MRE forever. Bleah. I don’t see how this trick can be solved, yet, but I’ll bet top biologists can.
    Funding is going to end up being a bitch unless he can talk Apple or Exxon into sponsoring part of it. Big honking rockets take a lot of money, even reusing them and only paying for fuel the 2nd and 3rd times. Mars bases and factories take even more. He’s hoping to find enough millionaire test pilots to make it profitable, seems a small set. So like NASA he might have the capacity but run out of practical funding before consummating.
    The AI explosion is already kicking off, we will have HAL-2001 level sentiences or better in six years. This could easily help accelerate design and testing. “Maker” fabrication with exotic metals is already real, it means whatever you can dream, you can build; jet engines with gnarly parts impossible to machine normally; this will help too.
    Psychology problems are going to end up being surprisingly large. Living on Mars is going to take a reeeally special mentality, something like being air-dropped into the middle of Antarctica or South Dakota’s Badlands and actually enjoying it. For two years. We might end up using scientists with Native American Indian blood if we’re smart. Or Aussie aborigines. Otherwise an extremely small, closed society with no way out could start to wear in unexpected ways on the average American.
    the big challenge here for the settlers is going to be establishing Meaning & Purpose, which the right people should have and must have in spades.
    Age of Aquarius Earth aligns with Mars happens only once every two years, so there has to be a flurry of launch activity during that window. This forcing function will pace things. Will put people under the gun, which drives output faster but also makes for more screw-ups and less testing.
    Elon Musk is a force of nature, he is insane. Building an electric car industry from scratch was impossible. Designing a Hyperloop was impossible. Landing a reusable rocket upright was impossible. He may very well fail, but I would not bet against him.
    Concept video:

  42. Martian Shill says:

    Training to be a shill for the esteemed Martian masters is far more rigorous than spending 10 years in the Arctic, Mr. Minnerath. I fear you are guilty of stereotyping.

  43. charly says:

    Space suits are something historic. All the humans will work using a robot and telepressence. You don’t have to deal with the dust and radiation.

  44. Imagine says:

    He is, in fact, refueling with a second boost. The rocket itself has to have outstanding integrity in order to be able to land upright on Mars; take off from Mars again; and land upright safely on Earth. Lego parts assembly is fine for a space-station in orbit, but I guess it doesn’t work as well for a precision-built atmospheric/space liner.

  45. charly says:

    The US passed a law recently that you can claim real estate.

  46. charly says:

    Similar atmosphere means life. I’m not afraid of the life that is big but microscopic life is something completely different

  47. charly says:

    The big reason to go to mars is to find life. Musk vision will muck up that change.

  48. Imagine says:

    First generation of Augmented Reality glasses hits this Christmas, and changes everything. Magic Leap follows by next Christmas. See conceptual whale-diving video at
    (note you have to be wearing the magic glasses to get this for real.)

  49. Sans racines says:

    Closer to the Mars mission is he thinking of surrounding a big central container surrounded with several of his reusable rockets? That would be the way to do it. Landing backwards on Mars they’ve already demonstrated on the Earth. But you’re going to need water production – wasn’t there a fair amount of water ice trapped under the surface of Mars? Basically the kind of people you’d find to stay on the surface are the adventure tour types and logistics operators – you’d make a killing running tours up the craters and through the valleys – after a year you’d come back to earth, you could even retire and live the good life… then you’re going to need the services – health, electricians, structural maintenance and civil engineers – will it be so different to an oil-platform where you do a shift of a few months?

  50. Imagine says:

    Moon you have to dig in to get away from UV, killer heat & killer cold, vacuum. Asteroids don’t have real gravity. We should however explore undersea cities as much easier to get to. Musk envisions Mars as eventually a self-supporting, viable colony.

  51. NotTimothyGeithner says:

    The first real step to colonizing Mars is identifying a landing zone where raw materials could be mined by robots and turned into factories for solar power (land is unlimited) and water collection.
    Nuclear could be solved by asteroid mining. All of the heavier elements on Earth are extra terrestrial. We don’t need to go to Mars to get goodies. Earth’s original heavy elements sank to the core and beyond our reach long ago. Just find the asteroid and direct it to crash, an engineering feet but probably the most sensible course of action. There is nothing to damage on Mars. Of course, asteroid mining and movement raises the question of why one would bother with Mars at all except from a misplaced sense of ownership.

  52. eakens says:

    I suspect this is going to require some artificial Truman show type environment to be created on earth until the species has evolved to the point where you can release them onto Mars without having to watch them die.

  53. Imagine says:

    Musk envisions a Mars colony as a back-up in case the Earth self-immolates in WWIII. (This, of course, is inconceivable.) It does not look economically viable for decades. Why do peacocks grow huge tails? Because of the imperative for reproduction.

  54. charly says:

    The first space race between the USA & USSR was not economically viable but it did speed up development.

  55. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I wish you all the best and hope that this time there would be no slave trade involved.

  56. A Pols says:

    On a more serious note and recognizing the value of dreams, etc, the practical side of such a venture is daunting. For starters, the physics involved in getting lots of people and everything needed to sustain them off this planet and to deliver it safely to Mars’ surface is an enormous challenge. Not only for the equipment needed, but also for the huge energy bill involved. This leads inevitably to the question of what it would cost, who would pay the bills, and who stands to gain what from the venture. A one way robot mission to Mars already costs a fortune. Imagine thousands of tons of payload and the need for return trip capability; do the math and draw your own conclusions.
    When I referred to this as a “techno triumphalist fantasy” I was mostly speaking to the issue against which our culture has been bumping in recent decades. That issue relates to the rising curve of complexity and the fact that things that may be technically possible to do may not be practical to do. There comes a point where the
    costs involved in technical “tour de force” projects become prohibitive.
    We see this with some weapons systems like the Zumwalt, originally planned for 32 ships and now only 3, and then there’s always the F35.
    Although it sounds awesome to boldly go and establish a Mars colony of a few hundred people, or a million, the economic reality would likely be that it would take the combined GNP of all the world to do that, and to what end?
    Musk is a huckster, in my opinion, who has profited from projects that receive subsidies, both overt and covert. Like all boosters, he’ll wildly understate the costs of things he proposes. My layman’s prediction about this is: ain’t gonna happen.

  57. Fred says:

    Dr. Brenner,
    Perhaps Amtak could put in an order for autonomous trains.

  58. Fred says:

    Martian Shill,
    Sounds just like the people who came to the New World and the place Down Under.

  59. ISL says:

    Hydroponics and artificial light from the nuclear power plant and precisely controlled co2 and humidity levels. Key is finding water (bonded to iron).
    If you want trees, I would propose hooking rocket motors (ion propulsion) to a few comets and arranging to have them slam into Mars (before colonizing)

  60. Degringolade says:

    In a book that I read in the long-ago
    “The first human expedition to Mars was selected on the theory that the greatest danger to man was man himself.”

  61. Jeff says:

    The current lift-off price is something like 20K$ per pound. 450 tons is 18 billion dollar. Even if his genius can remove a zero or two, it still raises questions about insanity – and that is before the radiation kills you off.
    It is also a one-way trip. There are cheaper ways to commit suicide.
    I think somebody has big ideas because he has a big need of fresh money.

  62. michael brenner says:

    It might be useful to step back and gain some perspective on what’s happening. This Musk/Bezos fantasy is enabled financially by public policies that have transferred approximately 1.8 trillion dollars into the pockets of the top one-tenth of one percent since 2000. This does include the $3 trillion made available at near zero interest by the FED via Quantitative Easing – to which neither you nor I have access. That process has accelerated since 2009. It comes on top of broader wealth transfers upwards that began in the 1970s which have left salaried Americans no better off today 43 years later. In other words, all the growth in national wealth over two generations has shifted upwards.
    One result is that a bunch of uber-billionaires have more money than they know what to do with and huge egos to fill. So you run for president. Or decide to remake American public education (Gates). Or set up a non-foundation foundation that becomes a tax free instrument to throw your weight around (Zuck). Or lure people into a whole new set of wet dream fantasies to distract them from what’s going on (or not going on) in their actual lives.
    Who has made the civilization decisions that we should introduce “how to spend 36 hours on Mars” rather than get people to work in comfortable fashion? Who decides that charter schools should supplant our 200 year tradition of public schools that made American society what it is? (Fact: they perform 3% less well on average despite being free to cream off the most educatable). Who decides that driver-less cars (already on the road without serious testing or study)serve community well-being – the financial predators? Who decides the country’s economic future requires that big corporations should be given the privilege not to pay taxes – the voting public or the heavy hitters who buy up legislators by the cartload?
    All of these questions are eclipsed as we get sucked into the next hula hoop craze.

  63. BabelFish says:

    The sun will become hot enough to burn life from earth in about a billion years. Way short of that, given climate changes that have sound science behind them, the planet will become unsuitable for humans. The Mars thinking is that if we don’t spread out, we run an increasing risk of species extinction from some environmental or extraterrestrial event.
    I am one of those folks that would argue that we need a gradual approach and this is too ambitious at this time. Perhaps heretically, I believe the Apollo peogram was a mistake and that we should have mastered low earth orbit first and gone to the moon after that. I feel the same about a Mars shot. However, I really would like to see a Red Dragon get to Mars from a 2018 launch date. It would help fire our curiosity and imaginations. Upping payload levels to Mars would give us so much more science and pave the way for manned exploration.

  64. ISL says:

    Mars does have a magnetic field. Its weak, but it should be strong enough to protect against solar wind particles (particularly in the southern hemisphere).
    while some species have fetus development problems in zero space, others do not, no one has tried with humans, and in any case, 1/3 gravity is not zero, so this is a big unknown – but there also could be technological solution (albeit not for normal childbirth).

  65. michael brenner says:

    Didn’t I see Augmented Reality last Monday evening – without the glasses?
    Seems to me that what we need is Diminished Reality.

  66. ambrit says:

    Reusability of essential components is the key. If anyone can build moderately expensive vehicles, and re use them enough times, the cost per cargo ton sinks to a reasonable figure. Remember, there is “Mars Direct” thinking, with one shot Earth surface to Mars and back systems, and “Battlestar Ares” thinking, with separate units for different tasks. One unit for Earth surface to Earth orbit. Another for Earth orbit to Mars orbit. And yet a third for Mars orbit to Mars surface, and back. Each has it’s own requirements and design challenges. The different units do not have to be all produced by the same organizations.
    Musk might be acting consciously in the capacity of “Catalyst.” Once an idea gains a ‘life of its’ own’, the sky is literally the limit.

  67. Kooshy says:

    Well, come to think of it, first thing a Yazdi type businessman will ask, is how many miles you will get for that flight, and if the miles can be spend on a new Tesla here on earth.

  68. turcopolier says:

    Are you sure you are not Lebanese? Lebanese joke. NASA adverised for someone to fly to Mars (marikh). A Frenchman showed up, “un grand aggrege.” He wanted 200,000 to doe the job, needed to provide for his mistress, etc. then an American, straight teeth, crooked smile, USAF test pilot, Ph. D. in astrophysics. He wanted three hundred thousand. Then a Shia peasant from the Bekaa applied and said 200 for you, two hundred for me, we charge 700,000 and send this American to Mars. pl

  69. Kooshy says:

    Colonel, I am not joking, this is what I was told, when I mentioned your new post to an old Yazdi merchanet around lunch time here in LA. He told me it could be worth it if it came with a new free Tesla.

  70. Imagine says:

    I’ll go with that. A Space Transport Liner should have different requirements from an atmospheric/space shuttle, as long as you can work out the refueling dance. You could make it be a big 2001-style wheel & give it artificial gravity, it could be as gross as you want, no need for streamlining. Get one or two atmospheric shuttles out to Mars plus a refueler or two, and you’re set.

  71. Degringolade says:

    Martian Shill:
    Dude, those guys were Navy types. Them and the Army and Marine components trash Bars and Cinema’s as part and parcel of a day off.
    Nothing there to see….move along

  72. Imagine says:

    Excellent questions but it’s called “capitalism”. Money is votes; people decide what they want the most, and whoever gets the most votes, gets to buy jobs for everybody else. We have a generation that grew up with “reality TV” as the epitome of culture, hence we get Trump with 30% of vote. We have another generation that grew up with “Israel is holy”, hence Iraq, Libya, Syria, and arguably Ukraine. In the meantime our elected politicians vote another $38B for Israel, while primary education limps grinding. I’ll take Gates’s idealism over Nuland’s any day of the week. People vote with their wallets. And those not rich but with outstanding ideas become activists that get rich people/companies/governments to fund them. Speak up, make the case, and go for it!

  73. Tol Tapen says:

    Mars is utterly worthless little planet. There can be no economic benefit in its exploration even with nuclear explosion powered ships, while Terra-forming is and will always be a mere fantasy.
    So, lets face it folks, the Earth is the only place we, people would ever call our home. Therefore, I think, we should finally begin treating our planet with respect and be nice to each other.
    The Moon, on the other hand, can be explored if there is economically extractable water ice in the polar regions. A million ton industrial base can be launched to the Moon from some remote location in say West Antarctica so the nuclear fallout is isolated. Also, we can shoot 100 pound projectiles (via a Lagrange point)down to earth, with great precision, at a cost of less than $1 per pound. This can potentially be very appealing to the guys with artillery background but I mean only mineral delivery system.

  74. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Tesla is heavily subsidized in California; and then there is the long distances involved in going anywhere there – the cost of gasoline is much more than Tesla.
    It is anomalous distortion of the Market – will not last.

  75. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, you are right.
    But the issue I am raising is not protection against the solar wind afforded by a planetary magnetic field; rather it is the coupling between Life and the Electromagnetic Field (and the Gravitational Field).
    The reason tadpoles are malformed is because biological molecules cannot find their proper places as the buoyancy force that they experience has been altered.
    Likewise for higher animals.
    I suggest sending a habitat fit for the frogs and the amphibians out to Mars – with an appropriate selection of amphibian species – letting them breed (if possible) over 10 or more generations and then make more informed decisions.
    There is no technological solution.

  76. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Il me semble que ceci est une fantaisie anglo-saxon – ils ne trouveront jamais un homme français là – immigrent chez Mars!

  77. Anonymous says:

    People dream of going to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the few who can, pass through McMurdo Station. Up there on Observation Hill, a memorial Cross with the words “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
    Exploration is our everlasting call.

  78. Peter in Toronto says:

    For those seeking a semi-plausible fictional account of a Mars colony, I’d like to recommend Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, it accounts for many of the technical and societal changes an alternate human civilization would pose and experiments with new social and economic models.
    It glosses over many of the initial challenges of a permanent colony, but otherwise a great read.
    IMO, there is no greater purpose for this civilization, than to ensure our independence from this lonely Earth, which is liable to get squashed by some sort of space rock with an almost 100% certainty in the future. Musk calls a Mars settlement an “insurance policy” for humanity, and I agree. Everything else we do is a distraction to our one true destiny – the proliferation of man across this Solar system – and then galaxy.

  79. Peter in Toronto says:

    You aware that this planet also had no atmosphere at some point? De-gassing of volatiles in mantle rock generated the primitive early atmosphere, and photosynthetic archeobacteria mediated in the generation of free oxygen.
    We can utilize the same mechanisms in Mars. Detonate nuclear warheads at the Martian poles to vaporize the kilometers of solid water and other gases, enough to achieve an appropriate density, and then allow genetically modified microbes to mediate in O2 production.

  80. SteveG says:

    Well We can always get Arnold S to reprise his role
    from “Total Recall ” and hit the nuclear button activating
    the melting of the Martian ice crust thus creating an
    atmosphere conducive to life as we know it.
    Problem is Maria Shriver has the property rights from the
    divorce settlement. She wants 15 percent. Can we

  81. Jay M says:

    well, we are on the road of Mars
    the Temple of Janus has stood open a good while

  82. apenultimate says:

    I also have a hunch that Musk is a great salesman but not so much a man who could ever run a steady business.

    Umm . . . you mean like Tesla, or Solar City, or SpaceX? Seems he’s doing pretty well creating and running businesses. (certain caveats, of course–but none of those are so far un-successful)

  83. The base/colony infrastructure and supply reserves could be established by robotic flights to Mars well before any manned flight sets sail. I would think that would be the only way to establish any large, long term presence on the planet. It would be no different from establishing a space station before occupying it.

  84. Pat,
    Before I try responding to some of the above comments, my high-level take is that the underlying concepts (launcher reuse, on-orbit refueling, propellant production on Mars) are all sound. I just think he’s picked a scale that’s overly ambitious, and the assumptions behind his cost model are overly optimistic. If he manages to make the technical side work, I think he won’t hit his ambitious $140-500k/passenger ticket price, but he might hit $5-10M per passenger, which is already 1000x cheaper than how NASA would do things.
    I had a longer take on my personal space technology/policy blog here: http://selenianboondocks.com/2016/09/spacex-mars-plans-jons-first-take/

  85. As you say, both the risk and expense would be extraordinary. The risks can be minimized at even more cost – even the first Mercury launches had an escape system. As for who would have all the money, the only people who come to mind are the super rich. Pulling a number out of my rear end, I’d expect Musk to charge something like a hundred million dollars per ticket.
    It seems to me that the entire project is sort of crazy, but if the Earth’s ecosystem starts to collapse I could be very wrong about that. Getting to Mars is a big problem. First there is the zero gravity. Second is the cosmic ray radiation. Solving the first will be moderately easy, but the second could be a bitch. Brute force approaches like 3 feet thick polyethylene shielding would probably be too heavy. Perhaps some necessary bulk cargo required on Mars would serve, but all the extra mass would mean even longer trip times. I believe some extremely strong magnetic shielding would be necessary. Power for such a system could be billboard-sized solar panels like that little ion spaceship Dawn used. If those solar panels could be stowed and safely transported to the Mars surface, they’d help power the electric bulldozers and rock crushers and manufacturing devices. With unlimited electricity synthetic food could probably be made until giant greenhouses were up and running. Protection against radiation on Mars would mean moving underground and going out only in heavily shielded vehicles. Poul Anderson once described how the lower gravity would alter the humans there. Again, all this is doable, but insanely expensive.

  86. Babak,
    I think a more accurate way of putting it is that we don’t know yet if humans can successfully adapt to the Mars environment. We have billions of data points at 1-gravity, a couple hundred at zero-gravity, but no data points at anywhere between. We have no idea how much gravity humans need to be healthy. I may be you need almost a full 1G. It may be that we can adapt to lunar gravity. We literally do not know, and have no good way of testing that on Earth. But it can be tested fairly reasonably on-orbit (I did a few blog posts over the past five years on one of the better ways to get the data quickly: http://selenianboondocks.com/2010/11/variable-gravity-research-facility-xgrf/).
    I wish Elon saw getting this data as a higher priority.

  87. JLD,
    You’d almost never be in a space suit–you’d be inside interconnected pressurized building most of the time. You’d probably only ever venture outside in a suit when absolutely necessary. There are places in the world during winter that aren’t that different from that situation. I wouldn’t want to move there permanently myself, but it would be an interesting place to visit.

  88. TTG,
    I agree that bigger than 4-6 person groups makes a lot of sense, though something more in the 10-20 range would’ve allowed for a more reasonable sized system.
    I just hope my friends at Space Works can get their “Induced Torpor” technology to work. They’re being funded by NASA’s NIAC program to investigate the idea, and it looks plausible. If they could make that work, a 100 person ship could be much smaller, since you could keep most of the people in torpor for most of the trip.

  89. Mike,
    If you look at Musk’s predictions for SpaceX in the past, they usually take ~2x longer than expected. One joke some of us have made is that Musk is a Martian, and he keeps forgetting to do the unit conversion from Mars years into Earth years…
    So yeah, 2024 seems wildly optimistic. 2032? Much less crazy, though I still think BFR/ITS are way too big for a next step.

  90. Will,
    I just wish they weren’t both focused on such huge rockets as their next steps. The rapid reusability part is the key innovation, not the size.
    Right now one of the only companies working on a more sane sized fully-reusable vehicle is my previous company, Masten Space Systems. Masten, Boeing, and Northrup Grumman each were given about $6M each to do some feasibility study work on a rapidly reusable first stage for a two-stage rocket that can put 3000-5000lb into orbit. DARPA will be announcing their Phase II selection (for a $140M development/demonstration contract) in the next few months. If Masten beats the odds and wins–they’ve grown about 10x since I left, but are still less than 50 people, I think that’s a much better size range to demonstrate high flight rate reusability.
    We’ll see.

  91. elaine says:

    I read something last week about North Korea planning to shoot a rocket to the moon.
    I just googled North Korea+shooting rocket to the moon…too many hits to post a link.
    Any thoughts?

  92. Ulenspiegel says:

    “It is also a one-way trip. There are cheaper ways to commit suicide.”
    When I read the Musk article my first thought was that he is offering adventure funeral. 🙂
    We should start witth a settlement on the moon where parts of the rockets for the Mars mission could be produced and some aspects of a Mars village could be tested.
    The timeframe of Musk’s Mars mission is much too ambitious IMHO. Add three decades.

  93. Old Microbiologist says:

    I can vouch for how that is not a fun way to live. For 16 years I worked at least 6 hours and often 12 hours a day in a BSL-3+ containment facility wearing a spacesuit with 1 inner suit and working in a Class III glovebox (3 pairs of gloves and two layers of glass to look through). The self contained fan/filter unit supplying HEPA filtered air while somewhat light still weighed about 10 pounds and made sitting in chairs impossible. My point is this is a horrible way to live and I am so glad I am far far away from it now. Not fun and any errors have a high risk of death as all my organisms (biothreat agents) were aerosols and most not susceptible to any antibiotics. I was also working with open caged rhesus macaques who are violent and aggressive plus infected with Herpes B which is also fatal for humans. Mars is similar in risk.
    Babak is correct. We are evolved to live on Earth. We tend to forget that we are not single entities but rather a very large colony of specialized cells living commensally with billions of microorganisms all equally evolved for life on Earth. We cannot produce any of our own nourishment and are omnivorous predators eating other organisms. Very little work has been done to seek ways to produce food from raw materials internally and would require major genetic manipulation. It is, of course, doable but not any time soon. Typically from concept to reality is usually 25 or more years and I know of no one working on this.
    It is, of course, possible for people to live short term on Mars and it is even possible to make changes to the planet to accommodate humans. But, why bother? Our real problems on Earth are from over-population which for some idiotic reason no one seems to want to address. We very badly need to cull the population back to a sustainable level. There are a lot of arguments as to what this may be and it ranges from a total population of 400 million to as high as 3 billion. But, we are already past the sustainability level. Whether we address this directly (seems impossible politically) or nature will do it for us. War is a natural culling method and it seems very likely that this will occur in my lifetime. The results will be a culling of all life on Earth to very minimal levels and only the smart, lucky, or strong will survive. Basically a return to scratch and start over (again). It is perhaps a manifestation of the Fermi paradox.
    From a feasibility aspect it is expensive to lob hundreds of capsules into orbit and even more expensive to build something that can go back and forth to Mars, then you have the problem of landing and sustaining humans. I would say in the world of science this is overly ambitious and something a recent graduate from a PhD might dream up until his betters reign him in with reality. A space elevator is the only feasible way to do this and again no one is working on it. Perhaps China, assuming they are the ultimate overlords after the US and Russia kill off each other or the US collapses both the EU and US economies, will have the resources to do this. I do not know what their long term goals are but I doubt it is colonizing Mars. I think they will want to colonize Earth first once they eliminate capitalism (I believe they adopted it for temporary purposes and will eliminate the oligarchs once they achieve whatever economic goals they have planned and return to strict communism).

  94. jld says:

    “When fossil fuels wind down we’re going to be on fusion, wind and wave, geothermal and solar”
    Not impossible but very very low probability, burning cow dung is more likely. 🙁

  95. jld says:

    “The AI explosion is already kicking off,”
    Sorry to have to cut off the wind out of the sails of so many techno-junkies here, and especially about AI which is a field I closely follow:
    There currently exists absolutely NO AI.
    Yup, there are a lot of impressive results but these are the product of a HUGE engineering and mathematics effort by large teams of humans, not the output of a functional AI except in a few fringe cases with very minor impact like Genetic programming.
    And the actual experts really working in the field acknowledge this (if on milder terms not to compromise their funding 🙂 ).
    Chalk this as another case of incompetent mendacious journos, like if the SST readers didn’t know about “reporting” of political events…

  96. LeaNder says:

    thanks for pointing out the different atmosphere. Not that I didn’t like to escape the world to a distant star quite often in my life. 😉

  97. sillybill says:

    Ha! And look what happened – entire crew wiped out/died except for one baby.
    I think Mars would be safer than Luna or space stations/asteroids, as well as psychologically less stressful. The surface is neither blazing hot nor close to absolute zero. It’s not a vacuum, which will make spacesuit manufacture and maintenance easier. Which means it’s easier to just go outside for a walk when your comrades get to annoying. There is a reasonable amount of gravity which will be easier on the human body, plus make it possible to cook the things they grow without inventing a whole new kitchen tech. Animals and plants for food will be much easier to raise. I think chickens and guinea pigs would be able to adapt. Maybe fish in the water tanks. Bring cats just because.
    They will have to make lot’s of modifications as they go so will need a machine shop and tools, spare parts, hardware and supplies. Lot’s of duct tape.
    Is it all worth it? Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. As long as the expense isn’t imposed on the unwilling I say go for it.

  98. LeaNder says:

    All the humans will work using a robot and telepressence
    They will be present virtually only or only via robots, but still can exploit whatever resources there are or might be? They don’t need to be teleported particle wise thus, or via whatever spaceship enterprise to their new settlements?

  99. Martian Shill says:

    My Martian masters want me to explain this simple. You humans are a mixed up, war-like lot. Between the Louvre and the guillotine; between the stolid pioneer on the Great Plains and the hunter destroying the buffalo; between the City on the Hill and the infected blankets for the natives there’s a lot of human nature to fit into a rocket ship and a dome on the planet Mars. If you get fed up with your neighbors you can’t just ride off into the sunset and start your own community. What is it that Sartre used to say, “Hell is other people?”
    How would you organize the colony? How would you handle deviance in the sociological sense? Crime? Rebellion? Juvenile delinquency? Substance abuse? Marital infidelity and jealousy? Crimes of passion? You can’t send them back…. The colony would have to be a severe dictatorship with extremely severe penalties for deviance.

  100. Babak Makkinejad says:

    That is what is happening in the illegal drugs scene in US, stiff competition in a free market, ending in murder and death in order to compete successfully.

  101. Babak Makkinejad says:

    ” we can shoot 100 pound projectiles (via a Lagrange point)down to earth, with great precision, at a cost of less than $1 per pound” – that is weapons platform on Moon. I suppose all terrestrial powers will then have to create their own versions on the Moon – further weaponing Space.

  102. Sans racines says:

    Not a techno junkie, just an engineer / physicist who makes things work. Fusion will happen, these other sources are increasingly online. You have an incorrect assessment of the probabilities.

  103. Sans racines says:

    All new major projects require public funding – in the States I guess it was mainly Darpa, the EU invests heavilly. It’s the collateral industries that are built up that provide the win-win.

  104. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The Empty Quarter comes to mind.

  105. Babak Makkinejad says:

    How many women and for how many times will have to conceive and have still-born children before the men who dream up such fantasies decide to go home and try something else?

  106. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Forget about international treaties; look at the way Antarctica is controlled by a few countries. Might makes Right (Droit) and so it will be in Space.
    For myself, I should think that if Iranians land on Mars first, they would claim it for the Imam of Age.

  107. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, I agree.
    We do not have sufficient data to make statements of high confidence about viability of mammalian fetuses in low gravity and low electromagnetic field environments.
    Nor do we know about longevity of mammals (or ven birds) in such environments.
    For example, if the microbiota of human gut are compromised, it could lead to various cancers. What is the viability of the gut microbiota over 100 human generations in an extraterrestrial environment?
    I should think making such places as Antarctica, the Empty Quarter, the Sahara, the Gobi Desert, the Loot & Kavir Deserts habitable makes more sense and would be cheaper.
    Think about it; if Sahara is made to bloom, all those would be immigrants from Africa may not flood EU.
    That ought to count for something.

  108. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Simpler versions of the same technology can be used to help a lot more people survive changing environment on Earth itself, even if things get cataclysmic here, at far small cost, helping far more people. We are not going to turn into Venus overnight. So even if Earth ecosystem does collapse, I still don’t see Mars as a solution.
    I’m being cynical (although apparently Jack below has the same worldview as I do), but it seems like Musk and his fellow vulture crony capitalists are stirring up publicity pot so that they can feed at Uncle Sam’s trough later….

  109. mike allen says:

    Rocketrepreneur –
    I agree that Musk is both overly ambitious and overly optimistic as you say.
    But you gotta admire his sense of humor in formulating the BFR term (Big Fracking Rocket??).
    PS – nice blog, thanks for the link.

  110. kao_hsien_chih says:

    The history of science has not been kind to that view of Columbus.
    Ancient Greeks both knew that Earth was round and already calculated its size fairly accurately–both of which were known to the learned people of the Middle Ages. What Columbus did was to subscribe to what turned out to be a very inaccurate theory about the size of the world, that it is much smaller than the ancient Greek calculations, and that reaching Asia via sailing West was feasible, and it turned out that the New World lay where, according to these new (inaccurate) calculations, where the eastern edge of Asia should be (which is why Columbus was convinced that he reached Asia). So, in a sense, Columbus “won” because he couldn’t (or at least the people whom he listened to) couldn’t do the “calculatin'” correctly. I suppose it is always possible to get lucky even when you’re wrong, but that seems very risky way of life.

  111. kao_hsien_chih says:

    There were comparisons between Trump’s operations and GE on these pages some time ago (I don’t remember when or the context). I tend to think Musk is more like Trump than what people think: they are gifted PR men who trucks to people’s aspirations, hopes, and fears, and makes (or loses) money quickly without building a sustained enterprise like GE. Will Tesla, SpaceX, or Solar City be like GE or Toyota a century, or even a few decades from now? They are both big on publicity, but limited on the magnitude of impact. Tesla is still a manufacturer of super expensive toys for the super rich, for now, at least, for example. I think this is what Jack was getting at.

  112. mike allen says:

    Elon Musk’s Falcon9 spacecraft has had 26 successful launches out of 28. And just a month ago the 29th attempt exploded during a static test several days before launch. It was carrying AMOS6, reputedly a commercial Israeli Comm Satellite.
    Yet the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center has high confidence about using the Falcon9 for future National Security launches.

  113. Imagine says:

    Telepresence is extremely viable. Mars is 4 to 24 light-minutes away from Earth, which means you’re always watching a delay tape of what your robot friend did a couple minutes ago. Robots already have enough autonomy such that you can tell them “go over there and pick up that rock”, soon “conduct business as normal and report back to me if you’re surprised”. Like a drone that flies itself. Poor robot could have to wait almost an hour for answers to what its supervisors are directing it to do, but think GM assembly line, same deal. As long as there’s enough autonomy, and there will be, no real reason to lose work time while high-level questions are debated, just do something else for a while.
    Robots make ever so much more sense on cost, environment(air,shelter,heat), food, and safety factors. However, Musk’s goal is to colonize Mars for humans. Thus robots will pave the way and provide cheap labor, but he’s still going to want human habitation.

  114. Imagine says:

    or send enough tankers of liquid gas over. Ah, THERE’s where we sequester our CO2!* **
    *almost certainly impractical, but.
    **maybe charcoal briquettes? Diamond? Graphene & carbon fiber?

  115. Imagine says:

    Fracking, with an underground nuke, to cause another Mt. Olympus.

  116. Imagine says:

    Tardigrades. They’ve probably already been introduced, from the previous Mars landings. They do fine in the ice in Antarctica. Maybe we could grow new ones the size of guinea pigs and use them as a food source :-D.

  117. Imagine says:

    Dinosaur-killing comets (asteroids?) would probably be easier, cheaper, & more effective than nuking the poles. That’s a good idea. “We could throw rocks at them.”

  118. Imagine says:

    sigh. It’s technically called “skim pricing”. Revolutionary Blue Ocean markets ALWAYS are opened by selling only luxury models to rich people. Because: [price elasticity has no meaning for new categories with no established price history, and therefore economic price optimization has no meaning as well; conjoint analysis the same]XXX when you’re a small company and limited in production, it only makes sense to make fashion models for “stupid rich people”, because they don’t care about price. You could make a hundred cars for a hundred people and sell them at $30K with $5K profit @, total company profit $500K, and starve to death. Or, you could make a hundred cars and sell them at $100K with $75K profit @, make $7.5M profit, actually pay the salaries for the jobs that you created, and go on to the next level. Since you’re ONLY GOING TO MAKE 100 CARS ANYWAY, because you’re limited by how much you can MAKE not how much you can SELL, this is the only path that makes sense. If you survive, you can then go on to Level 2, which is high-fashion cars for “medium-rich, medium-stupid people” at $75K each. Only until you survive successfully and get to around the fourth level do you have the luxury of being able to lower the price and sell affordable cars to the mass market. It is always like this. Musk is being responsible. People who carp Musk is not providing consumer-level mass-market cars yet, have not appreciated the difficulty of bootstrapping a viable, ongoing enterprise out of thin air. Musk is literally going up against The Big Three and he’s still in the ring; Renault; DeLorien; 15 years ago anyone who guessed this would be possible would have been called absolutely insane.
    Getting back to on topic, I don’t see yet there’s enough “stupid rich customers” to support tourist missions to Mars viably. But then, I’m not Elon Musk.

  119. Imagine says:

    And Watson did not beat the world champion Jeopardy players. And Google did not just beat one of the world champion Go players. And their programs are not going from pictures directly to friggin’ English descriptions of the pictures, neither faces to names. Move along here, nothing to see, we’ll be using fax machines for the next decade, business as usual.
    AI is going through a short-term hype cycle reminiscent of that for expert systems before the AI winter, so there may be a short-term bubble crash. AI is also hitting the knee in the curve where the results supercharge growth that’s exponential. 2001-HAL level of verbal interaction/complex system management within 5 years if not 2.

  120. Imagine says:


  121. Imagine says:

    so this is a 10.3% failure rate, which is about right for cutting-edge research rockets. There’s a reason why they call it Rocket Science.

  122. Allen Thomson says:

    FWIW, there are some SpaceX slides showing the concept at
    I don’t think Musk is in miracle territory, but it would be nice to see some more detail.

  123. Imagine says:

    Because there is in fact a lot of hype, on both sides, the best & brightest AI guys in the world got together and put down an outstanding statement of where we (humans) are and where we’re going over the next few decades, so that people could start to plan. It is a clear, objective description of the current SOA + look ahead written cleanly and designed to be read by non-technical policy makers. I recommend it highly to people serious about the field.

  124. ISL says:

    Creating an artificial womb in a magnetic field in a centrifuge is technically feasible. However, agree that we should first send a colony of rodents and see what happens.
    The Sahara is a desert because climate makes it a desert. It will never make economic sense to make it bloom rather than growing food in other areas of the world where the climate favors the ecosystem.
    If you smash a few comets into the Sahara nothing changes – the earth is not short of water. If you smash a few comets into Mars, somewhere on the surface water will accumulate.
    That said, colonizing a gravity well that is not earth-like makes no sense. The asteroids provide a vast resource available at low energy.

  125. Allen Thomson says:

    > I read something last week about North Korea planning to shoot a rocket to the moon.
    Yes, they’re talking about that. Given their current rocket programs, they could probably send a probe into lunar orbit in a few years and land a smallish robot a bit after that. The significance, other than that rockets also have military uses, is mostly for internal propaganda/morale.

  126. Allen Thomson says:

    Launch vehicle reliability is a tricky topic, but Ed Kyle has been keeping stats at http://www.spacelaunchreport.com/logsum.html for all launch vehicles.
    Columns 3 and 4 are the ones to look at, as they give the real historical statistics and the predicted “true” reliability taking into account the sample size and using a simple statistical model. The two converge for large sample sizes, as one would hope, but caution is in order. Nonetheless, the message that expecting more than .99 reliability might be optimistic is clear.

  127. Warpig says:

    No, you have it backwards. Last Monday was Diminished Reality. I’d be happy to just return to Reality, if we were ever there.

  128. Babak Makkinejad says:

    One fantasy followed by another fantasy (artificial womb)…
    This desire by men – suffering from womb-envy, it seems to me, to replace women with artificial creations, goes back all the way to the Ancient Greeks – The Myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.
    I guess many men cannot handle real women, such as Xanthippe, preferring Galatea instead; a Greek Sex Golem.

  129. Babak Makkinejad says:

    In regards to smashing comets onto Sahara – it will probably cause another mass extinction.
    I think it is more efficient to invest in star ships; there are lot of ready-made Earth-like planets with a suitable moon around to accommodate all of humanity.
    In fact, that would be the best possible course of action; there would be a planet for Canadians, one for the Basque, 3 or 4 for the Kurds, a few for the Mormons, and so on and so forth. There could even be a planet for South Carolina, another for New York City and another for Catalonia.
    Best of all, the coordinates can be known only to a few so that a Kurd can never ever see a Turk and vice versa; likewise for a Castilian and a Catalonian…
    The best of all possible universes…

  130. Sans racines says:

    Then they will leave it to the Swiss – someone like Picard.

  131. Sans racines says:

    Second that.

  132. Sans racines says:

    Thanks for his – my guess regarding strap-on boosters was wrong – that really is a chunky design. But what’s the bit about stealing underwear in the financing section?

  133. kao_hsien_chih says:

    “If you survive” is the big qualifier. In fact, I’d suspect one might even add, “if you want to cater to mass market at all.” Selling “branded” goods at a high markup to a small segment of the market is the winning business strategy for many, after all–if the increase in returns to scale are small enough. I could actually imagine Musk and his likes continuing only as a purveyor of expensive goods for the rich forever, without trying to reach the mass audience. If the current trends towards wealth polarization continues, that’d be the way to run business. If he does and makes more money doing it, more power to him.
    For space tourism, I don’t doubt that we’ll see very shortly the likes of Musk selling low orbit flights at “reasonable” fees for the very rich. I’ll give it 5 years, in fact, before that becomes a practical, profitable proposition. Doubtful if that will ever be made practical, any less than the “grand tours” of 19th century aristocrats became available for the masses. Rich people already pay 100k+ a pop to climb Mt. Everest. Basically, space tourism will be the same. Will the same logic extend to Mars in 50 years? Who knows?
    I suppose part of my reticence is that I don’t like the idea of rich people crafting toys for other rich people so that they can show off, much more of a moral judgment. And, as I suspect, the Mars travel will only be feasible with massive taxpayer subsidy, then things would be vastly worse: we’d be in the same realm as many other crony capitalists scamming off of government to enrich themselves, like shiny taxpayer funded ballparks that turn away fans who only buy cheap seats (actual issue with several sports franchises.)

  134. eakens says:

    Hey put me on Mars with some golf clubs. I’ll find water for you.

  135. michael brenner says:

    Re. Musk: some say, he’s using his own money – so let him give it a try.
    In fact, he is using our money. His money stems directly from enterprise subsidized by the taxpayer and leveraged loans at next to zero interest. Without us, he couldn’t launch this latest venture. So we should have a say in the priorities of what he’s doing.
    We may recall that Henry Ford got no government subsidies.

  136. KHC,
    All what you say about Columbus is true, but it doesn’t make for a catchy and ribald jody to accompany you on the march to the ranges.

  137. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You cannot be serious.
    No way, not unless one can devise a containment vessel that lasts 5 to 10 years.
    Not going to happen.

  138. LeeG says:

    How old are you?

  139. charly says:

    I didn’t mean telepresence from earth but from the Mars base. No need to put on the suit or deal with Martian dust. That would save a lot of time and you don’t need IA for that.

  140. charly says:

    Problem is some point are worth more than others. For instance the South pole of the Moon (has water, near always sunlight) is probably worth more than the rest of space.

  141. jld says:

    You still dont’t get it it seems.
    Yeah! IBM Watson, “Toronto”?
    Alphago: ONE of plays against Lee Sedol turned to a complete disaster because Lee did an unusual move.
    THIS is what I mean by “no AI”, it’s only algorithms very very finely tuned by humans, just like you cannot compete with you smartphone on arithmetic, by some 20 orders of magnitude or so, that doesn’t make the smartphone “intelligent”.

  142. Sans racines says:

    Have you looked at the ITER design?

  143. Sans racines says:

    Why do you ask?

  144. Babak Makkinejad says:

    ITER is just another insatiable sink hole of money – like its predecessor in US (New Jersey) – that would keep a well-connected and “In-Group” of physicists and engineers employed for a few more decades.
    In the meantime, it takes away money from the lone independent young investigators and feeds it to the not-so-young science-bureaucrat who know how to work well within a bureaucracy.

  145. Imagine says:

    Sorry. Blue-ribbon summary of AI’s state-of-the-art + projections, for non-technical policy makers: https://ai100.stanford.edu/2016-report

  146. Sans racines says:

    I hope you’re not thinking of ‘Cold Fusion’? The Manhatten project was expensive, CERN was expensive, semiconductor fabs are expensive. This is not a coincidence – big ground-breaking science/ engineering projects are expensive. It is a conundrum – how to fund the worthwhile small researchers and find them amongst those well skilled in grant applications… Einstein didn’t get funded initially due to this… no easy answers for this one, but the JET results show that the concept (Russian Tokamak) will work at this scale.

  147. MarkC says:

    A better idea would be to build an industrial base on the moon and corral asteroids for their minerals to that base. Once fuel was able to be manufactured there, then use the lunar base as a stepping stone to Mars.
    Mars is too far away for direct access, we need to establish a (relatively) near-Earth capability first.

  148. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The issue is the durability of the containment vessel; it does not last for practical applications to electric power generation. Whoever says otherwise is selling you the Brooklyn Bridge. In other words, they are selling snake oil.

  149. kao_hsien_chih says:

    To be fair, there is no evidence that humans or any other biological computers are any more “intelligent” than the silicon based ones (and based on other nonorganic matter).
    Human thoughts and behavior lie within the realm that can be captured by mathematics, up to a point. They are much fuzzier and more complex, but not quite completley incompatible with what computers do. There is no reason to believe that, on many chores, nonorganic computers cannot replicate or approximate what their organic counterparts can.
    In certain tasks, computers are in fact inherently superior to humans. Every board game, whether go or chess or otherwise, is a set of fairly simple (computationally) even if massive mathematical problems. Every one of these has a precise mathematical “solution” and this has been known for more than 100 years now, with the only constraint being computing power. A computer can “outthink” a human precisely because it is so much simpler yet far more powerful.
    In certain other tasks, the situation is more complicated: Google Translate does not have “intelligence” in the sense of actually “understanding” subtleties of a language, but it does very efficient and businesslike job detecting patterns and, in a sense, “following formulas.” It is true that computers cannot handle nuances and many other linguistic subtleties, and may never actually get there. However, while we might have issues with this not being true “intelligence,” this is also how vast majority of students learn things, languages or other subjects–they memorize stuff and learn formulas and identify the patterns that make up the “right” answers. Very few people get to the stage of mastery where they are beyond formulaic thinking. So even where computers are not truly “intelligent,” it is no less intelligent than most people on a given topic.
    Is this “progress”? Heck, I don’t know. I have misgivings about barons of high tech spending vast sums of money for amusement of themselves and their pals while yelling at common folk contemptuously, which I take the bravado about Mars and much of Space X scams to be (essentially higher tech version of Trump branded stuff). It’s still silly to pretend that the high tech stuff don’t exist.

  150. Martin Oline says:

    Musk apparently believes that everything is a giant computer simulation. So who’s ready to take a flight to Tomorrow-Land? Quoting from the article in Science.Mic:
    Tech titan Elon Musk has famously said the chances that we’re not living in a computer simulation are “one in billions.” Similarly, analysts at Bank of America released a report saying there’s a 20% to 50% chance we’re living in a simulated reality.

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