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Elon Musk, Evel Knievel and the Second Man on Mars

Elon Musk, Evel Knievel and the Second Man on Mars

We aren’t going to colonize Mars. Or the Moon. Or any other place in our solar system or beyond. This is an unpopular prediction. It shouldn’t be.

From a technological perspective, we’re capable of going to Mars. If there was a reason to go we’d be there already. Human beings aren’t wandering the surface of the Moon, the red planet, or elsewhere in our solar system because we have no reason to. 

We evolved here, to live here. If there’s anything we’ve learned from half a century of space exploration, it’s that we will thrive or die right here on this blue marble. That conclusion will make many readers cringe. It shouldn’t, but that admission feels like a defeat.

Alexander wept for there were no worlds left to conquer.

There’s a reason our biggest private space flight companies are all run by retired or semi-retired billionaires. Because there’s no business model for it. You’re not going to make money going to Mars just like you won’t make money watching TV or playing video games. 

Building colonies on Mars is the new yacht racing, a pastime to consume the dwindling days of the restless rich. Elon Musk published a quasi-scientific plan for colonizing Mars. He’s hinting at a manned mission to Mars to launch in this decade. Jeff Bezos has outlined his plans for a new generation of humans to be born in space. Richard Branson topped them both, becoming the first bored billionaire in space back in 2021. Manned space exploration is the juvenile fantasy of those who’ve exhausted the joys of our world.

Half a century ago, the notion of putting human beings in space was adventurous and exciting, full of promise for our future. Then we went. We found endless acres of nothing. Dun colored rocks spinning in a vast vacuum. Radiation. Cold. Emptiness. Death. Space is a playground for physicists and researchers. It’s useless for the rest of us.

The last of the scheduled Apollo missions to the Moon was completed in 1972. We never went back. Neither did anyone else. Why would they? There’s nothing there. After Evel Knievel jumped Snake River Canyon, why would someone else do it? There’s no purpose to the stunt besides the stunt itself, and there’s no glory in repeating someone else’s jump.

Throwing cold water on our sci-fi space travel dreams will be poorly received. But why? No one can describe a single sane, reasonable goal to be achieved by cramming humans into a metal pod and placing them for a time on a distant, uninhabitable rock. Musk’s explanation for going to Mars demonstrates the circular reasoning that always defines these visions.  

One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event.

The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you agree is the right way to go.

Elon Musk

There are a couple of problems with this logic, the first of which being that, on Mars, the “extinction event” Musk fears is basically just “days that end in -y.” Every day on Mars is an extinction event. 

Musk consistently tweets about his Mars dreams, lifting the language and logic of 1950’s space books for children.

There is, in fact, a very important difference between single-planet and multi-planet species – single-planet species exist.

Musk says he expects to die on Mars. If he ever goes, he’ll be right. There’s no breathable atmosphere. No liquid water. Radiation on Mars averages about 17 times levels on Earth. The average temperature is -81F. Atmospheric pressure is so low that if you walked out onto the surface unprotected, your blood would immediately boil.

This is where Mars enthusiasts will trip over themselves to nerd-out with ever more exotic engineering solutions to help humans survive. Water can be obtained as ice from the poles and transported thousands of miles to a colony for thawing. And that water perhaps won’t kill you. People can live in underground pods, complete with chambers for verdant gardens. Vast solar arrays would provide these colonies with abundant energy. We’re supposed to be excited about a future in which humans travel a hundred million miles to live as molepeople on a blasted rock in space? 

Our Mars fascination begs the question – why? When the excitement of doing the undoable has faded, when you’ve climbed Everest or jumped the Snake River Canyon, what’s the attraction of being there?

Over and over you’ll hear the explanation that humans need a refuge from an exhausted planet. Famine, disease, environmental degradation, even asteroids, all threaten to make Earth unlivable. Take that thought, then look at the artists’ images of humans living in metallic ant mounds on Mars. Now conjure up the disaster scenario on Earth so extreme that living in those silly Mars pods would be an improvement.

Detonate every existing nuke on Earth all at once. Release the most miserable imaginable pox. Kill every fish and bird. Pollute the ocean. Unleash every atrocity in our arsenal on this planet, then shop the solar system for places to live. Earth remains, even then, the only place we can hope to survive. Why travel 100 million miles to build your miserable survival mounds on a world even more hostile than our own?

It’s not hard to appreciate why bored billionaires are drawn to space travel. The Evel Knievel effect and the urge for trophies explains the allure. But why does space carry such a powerful emotional pull for the rest of us? Why do we feel like we’re supposed to go there?

It’s no accident that the only people to walk on the Moon were Americans. We live in “The New World,” a place “discovered” by a daring adventurer. Those who learned to exploit that new world earned fortunes while the unfortunates they discovered were infected, murdered and enslaved. In the American mind there simply must be new worlds to conquer, new frontiers to challenge. The mythology of exploration and conquest is etched on our bones, welling up within us a bundle of assumptions about the world too fundamental to question. Too essential even to recognize. Those who explore must surely define the shape of these new worlds. Those who don’t become its subject classes, or the unfortunates left behind. 

When Americans talk about space they are mindlessly mouthing the mythology of the Columbian conquest, the story of the miserable natives and the wretched, benighted masses abandoned in the old world. It’s insane. Allowing this zombie gene of colonial logic to poison our vision of the future is suicide.

Space is not the “final frontier.” The only frontier that ever existed was our own ignorance. That ignorance remains in abundance, right here at home, all around us. From a scientific perspective, space has much to offer us. From a social, political and economic perspective, it is a useless void. Space offers death.

We’ll eventually send someone to Mars, and that someone will probably be an American. They might even survive the trip. Then we’ll stop. Evel Knievel explained this outcome half a century ago. 

I want to be the first. If they’d let me go to the moon, I’d crawl all the way to Cape Kennedy just to do it. I’d like to go to the moon, but I don’t want to be the second man to go there.

Evel Knievel

There’s glory in doing what no one else has done, even if it’s stupid. No one wants to be the second man on Mars, because there’s nothing there. No frontier. No new world in which to thrive. Nothing to gain but another brag, another hollow moment. The only frontier that’s real is all around us, waiting to draw our attention. We will thrive on Earth or perish.

24 Comments

  1. I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now. The only thing I’ll add is that even President Nixon never had his private home raided by the FBI. The level of evidence required for this kind of search warrant is *absurdly* high, and no federal judge would’ve signed off on this unless they had Trump by the damn balls.

    Donald Trump isn’t getting away w/ this, no matter what the naysayers say (looking at you, Dins).

    Stay tuned.

    1. Ryan, the DoJ is playing by the rules, as they would with a sane opponent. That, or course, is the absolute worst thing to do. Of course, in Sane World, the DoJ keeps it mouth shut. But dealing with the insane tyrant and his death cult….no.

      Yes, the tyrant will get away with this, whatever “this” is, because his death cult and the remnants of the repub party have rallied 100% behind him. And don’t say “just you wait until the truth comes out…”

      The truth is irrelevant. The narrative is all that matters. And the DoJ (and the White House) being mute means one side crafts the narrative completely. Once again, the loser party brings a butter knife to a gun fight.

      1. “The truth is irrelevant.”

        Yes, well. That truth, as reported by the Washington Post, is that Trump (almost assuredly by his own bottomless stupidity) took documents pertaining to our *nuclear* programs.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/11/garland-trump-mar-a-lago/

        This is no longer an issue up for debate or reasonable disagreement. There’s little more our government takes more seriously than issues pertaining to our nuclear secrets. Pardon my French, but Trump has royally f’ed himself this time.

        It’s over for him, Dins. There’s no getting out of this one.

      2. Uh huh…..

        I just checked Brietbart’s webpage. It says the tyrant is encouraging the DoJ to release this warrant and receipt, and setting it up as “fake news”, and “hoax”.
        OAN’s site: Not a word about the the Post’s work.
        Fox site: Same….the idea the tyrant stole nuclear secrets is not mentioned.

        In a rational world, the tyrant would have been arrested, tried, convicted, and executed many many months ago. But that is not the world that much of the country, even the world, lives in.

        You seriously think the tyrant is going to allow this information to get out into “rational world”, OR his “death cult world” until the narrative has been spun that it is a frame job? The DoJ has 5 hours to get back to the magistrate on whether the tyrant opposes the release or not. If the Post’s story is true, what do you think the odds are that the tyrant won’t fight this release, until his followers are indoctrinated into whatever is the best narrative.

        Objective reality has no meaning to the insane.

      3. Unlike you, Dins, I’m not of the opinion that justice has failed unless we’ve put a bullet into Trump’s head and sent him off to parts unknown.

        You are a deeply disturbed person who needs help. I encourage you to get it.

    2. From Bloomberg (a week ago)

      By: Mark Niquette
      August 6, 2022 at 4:58 PM CDT
      Former President Donald Trump, who has teased he plans to run again in 2024, was the clear choice in a presidential straw poll of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference, beating out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
      Trump had an approval rating of 99% and was the choice of 69% of about 1,000 attendees at the conference in Dallas who voted…

  2. I think you’re missing the obvious answer. Most of these super rich types are constantly complaining about having to deal with governments, regulation, and just not being able to have libertarianism.

    The attraction in mars is that it’s free of all the stuff they hate about earth. They see a situation on mars where there will be a Musk colony run exactly how he wants it. Same with the Bezos space station. They aren’t interested in fixing earth because in the end they wouldn’t have power of it. If anything, they are rooting for collapse.

    This is a huge theme in sci-fi where the powers that be in space are always corporations in charge of anything with a CEO and no board of directors to answer to. They only sort of earth based solution they’d like is if they could somehow build a giant cloud city for the rich they’d be CEO of and then shit on the people bellow them and have them forced to rummage through the trash for food and supplies.

    You see lower level versions of this as well. Peter Theil wanted floating libertarian cities where he could run biological experiments on people because no government was willing to authorize him to do it.

    That’s always what this is. They want the corporate company town back complete with it’s own private security but they want it on a national scale, or failing that then god damn it they’ll do it on mars!

  3. The reason some want to get off this rock is because they naively believe it will be better somewhere else. As Chris said, even after global nuclear war, Earth would still be more hospitable.

    That being said, stories like this reinforce the catastrophe mankind is facing. Read this story, then project that to the Indus River system agreements, between two nuclear armed nations that hate each other……

    https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/06/us/drought-water-canal-colorado-nebraska-climate/index.html

  4. I’ve come to the conclusion that the frontier was the big safety valve for centuries. Didn’t fit it, didn’t want government telling you what to do? Go West young man! I’m convinced that all the griping incel types of today would have been the squatters of yesterday.

  5. The Martian is a favorite movie (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_(film)), especially that part where the stranded astronaut yelps involuntarily every time a Martian gust of wind threatens him and his shelter. The wind there gusts. Often.

    Dumbfuckery is the only term I can come up with when people talk about mining the moon and living on Mars.

    I think it verifies their short-term memory problems and makes them feel free to imagine a future different than the reality they helped create here.

    When space companies talk about going to Mars, you must realize they want to go on your tax dollars. As Chris says, there’s no business model for it any other way.

    Our planet is exhausted, it’s true. But not because it has worn itself out, used up all its chi, but because we’ve behaved like jerks toward a nurturing sphere that could support us — if we had a kind bone in our bodies.

    We were not designed to live totally indoors on any planet. How is that life for our species?

    I make art. My backyard is my workshop. But for over two months this summer my shady workshop has not been available to me. Too damn hot, even in the shade.

    The notion that the only thing that matters is to be first, to be the tallest, the biggest, the shiniest is such harmful crap. Our species designs tall, reflective buildings that kill birds, which tell us much about the health of our environment. Such stupidity.

    From my indoor bunker, I salute you. And wish you well.

  6. I agree that humanity will remain an earth-locked species. It didn’t have to be, but it has chosen greed over knowledge long enough that societal collapse is going to prevent our society from reaching the point of becoming a space-faring species.

    Complex society needs a whole lot to keep itself moving. Once the pieces required to keep complex society moving become scarcer, or are no longer available, complex society breaks down. It’s called Catabolic Collapse. It has happened countless times in the past, but humanity always had somewhere else to settle and find new resources to move past the previous collapse.

    Unfortunately, global society generally, and western society specifically, has used up a millennia worth of resources to keep billions of people fed and hundreds of millions of westerners living a life of absolute luxury relative to the rest of the species. All in the span of a few decades. What economists call GDP, I call a receipt for the destruction of unrenewable resources. It’s stuff we ain’t never getting back.

    If we were an intelligent species (individuals are intelligent, our species is greedy and stupid) we’d have been mining resources and storing them up for times of need. We’d be using them to help everyone have a less terrible existence while using our collective intelligence to figure out a way to live better using less. We’d be figuring out how to utilize renewable energy while saving fossil fuels for when we need them in situations where fossil fuels are objectively better. We’d be figuring out how to get off the planet to utilize our solar system’s resources, and becoming a Type I+ civilization instead of a Type 0 civilization that we’ll remain.

    But we didn’t. Because humans are greedy. Humans devise arbitrary group membership and then try to exclude others from their in-group, along with hoarding resources to live in luxury. And our species fucking exploded in population growth, which cemented the greed into resource depletion and ultimately, a very complex society vulnerable to a global collapse.

    Sure, we might putter along for long enough to send a few people to Mars to dig in the dirt and set up their life raft back to earth. But the delusion that human society has more than a few more decades of digging up and burning the earth’s finite resources so that the richest people can become even richer is just that, a delusion.

    Another 20-40 years and much of the earth will no longer be habitable due to climate change. And I’m not going to go deep into the weeds about resource depletion, but I’ll list some of the big ones: Top soil depletion, Nitrogen depletion, Peak Phosphorus, Water depletion, and even oil depletion, will make feeding people harder. Oceans are becoming acidic and we’re literally running out of fish. We’re becoming bigger laboratories for communicable diseases and poisoning ourselves with the pollution of our products. How much plastic is running through your veins right now, compared with how much plastic you need running through your veins?

    Once people can’t go outside because it’s too hot, or can’t live in an area because there isn’t any water, they will need to migrate to survive. We call them refugees. And it won’t be a few hundred here and a few thousand there. It will be millions. Or tens of millions. And there is nowhere on earth where an area can take a rapid influx of millions of people over the course of just a few years or decade without collapsing itself.

    And have I mentioned politics? As the collapse becomes undeniable for everyone, it’s going to be right-wing authoritarians who will use Ecofascism to “conserve” resources, which of course means murdering refugees, waging war to take others’ resources, and making internal “others” into slaves and serfs to do the brutal work the powerful in-group doesn’t want to do. As always “impossible times” will make the worst people in a society the “natural choice” for leadership. And then we’re where the oligarchs are wanting to go anyway: neofeudalism. And once we’re back to neofeudalism, you can kiss most advanced technology goodbye. Nevermind the internet, you’ll be lucky to have electricity and clean water unless your Lord has allotted it to you.

    You can call it doom and gloom and I’m fine with that, but that’s what’s coming hard and fast right down the middle, Anyone who thinks we can repeat the resource extraction and destruction that occurred from 1900-2020 for another 50 to 60 years without billions dying and much of the earth becoming uninhabitable are welcome to hold onto that belief. And you might as well believe we’ll invent ourselves out of this entirely man-made extinction event. just click your heels together three times and wish for a brand new planet instead of the one we’re currently destroying, why not.

    But let’s be clear here. Politicians are cozying up to the wealthy so that they can siphon a few dollars for themselves so they can have enough wealth to live in gated communities with their own private police and military forces. The ultra rich who are already living in gated communities are building their bunkers and shelters in foreign lands and rural areas and stockpiling those bunkers. And the god damn “tech” billionaires are all, literally, trying to get the fuck off the planet. Remember than when you’re trying to come up with a reason that I’m a lunatic. The people with the most resources on earth WANT OFF.

    I’m not sure how much clearer the trajectory we’re on can be.

    There’s no going back. We can’t just turn off all the machines and reverse global warming…in fact, even if we did, the earth would continue to warm, while billions of humans would die within a couple of years – we NEED all the machines running at full capacity just to remain in the status quo. We can’t innovate our way out of collapse, as we’re running out of natural resources and cheap energy that we’d need to build the solar panels and nuclear power plants and other renewable energy electric production facilities. Fusion is still another 20+ years away, just like Chinese Democracy and flying cars. I expect in 20 years it will still be 20 years away, if that kind of meme “hope” even exists anymore.

    We’re brushing up against the Great Filter and it turns out we weren’t ready as a species, regardless of how advanced our technology is. It turns out technology itself is a double-edged sword and while it can help, it can be used by the rich and powerful to the detriment of the entire species.

    This isn’t supposed to be apocalypse porn, it’s an honest meta analysis by myself paraphrasing very many serious researchers who have been screaming about this for decades but have been ignored. They’ve been ignored or laughed at (or worse) because GDP is the closest thing to a universal human religion, and my/their message is heresy.

    I’m not saying we’re all going to be dead by 2036. I think we’re going to keep increasing in population for at least another decade. Catabolic collapse will continue popping up here in a microchip shortage one year, supply chain disruptions another year, a resource war here and there every couple of years, etc., for awhile. We’ll do what we can to keep the lights on for as long as possible because it’s scary in the dark. But to do so, we’re going to be letting a lot of things fall apart, and if you aren’t already rich and powerful, don’t count on a rescue team showing up at your house to help once shit really starts happening.

    So, Chris, I totally agree. Our species has almost completely destroyed the only tiny plot of land it could ever really live on comfortably. Almost everyone is cognizant of it even if they have to publicly deny it to remain in good membership with their clan. And what are we doing? SPEEDING UP THE DESTRUCTION…because that’s GDP, baby -we always need more.

    (While I’m deep into this rant, I’ll also add as an aside that I also believe the current state of collapse we’re already in is why so much of the popular culture is End Of The World stuff, Zombie Apocalypse stuff, Fantasy/Super Hero stuff, because an honest reflection of where we’re at as a species is like looking at your own plot in a cemetery – it’s much more comfortable being entertained than engaged with reality…but the lingering thought of our own collapse can be a background theme in those popular culture stories that ties it to a world that would otherwise be too “silly” to suspend belief for. I also believe it’s why fascism proper is making a huge comeback as a way to enforce “traditions” that have become obsolete and to some degree, taboo, as right-wing authoritarians know it’s probably now or never to regain “superiority” before shit makes it impossible-to-enforce going forward.)

    Anyway… “Colonizing Mars” is a hilariously tragic fantasy game that a few bored billionaires who’ve already “won at Earth” are now playing, amongst themselves. Meanwhile the rest of the population just looks on, some in awe, and some in horror. And I’ll be honest, I’m looking at it with both awe and horror.

    Thanks for coming to my TED T̶A̶L̶K̶ Rant.

    1. I keep coming back to the easiest one to track: Lake Mead’s feet above dead pool status for Hoover dam. When that level is reached, it is lights out, literally, for about 1.3 million citizens, minimum. And that does not even begin to deal with the total lack of irrigation for a big chunk of agriculture in California. Of course, 1 million citizens died from covid, and the country kept trucking along…..

      Now, whether that situation is 10 years, or 20, away, I don’t know. But there is definitely a due date on it. But the death cult will have long done away with democracy by then, and they may have wiped out 10 or 20 million americans by then anyway, which would lessen the resource demand.

      Every day, the more I realize the best hope for humanity and the biosphere is a virus that wipes out 90% of the human population over a period of a few months. The biggest problem with such a virus is when all the nuclear power generation facilities start breaking down with a lack of people running them, or worse, when nuclear weapons with some kind of dead man’s trigger go off.

  7. I think you’re wrong, but for a much darker reason. If inequality continues on its current path (admittedly a big if), then for many people, a life working in the mines in Mars will be better than a life begging for scraps on this planet.

    Your mistake is assuming the average comfortable American, driven by wanderlust and boredom, is the one who’ll be volunteering to be shot into space. That’s never the case. Even when the New World was being explored, the colonists weren’t rich Europeans. They were the rejects and outlaws who had such a meagre, miserable existence that they were willing to risk probably death on a multi-month voyage, and then risk death by scalping by hostile natives, and then possibly starve when the crops failed in winter, just for a chance to eke out a subsistence farming life which was 100x better than what they were experiencing in the Old World.

    The rich Europeans stayed in Europe, bought and sold plantations in the New Word among themselves, in courts and legal systems that allowed them to never actually set foot on the distant lands they had legal jurisdiction over and “owned”. And when the ships with gold and treasure came back, it was all handled by their staff, while they spent their time in upper class leisure and court intrigues.

    The same will happen here. Most owners of property in Mars will never set foot on it. But they will be allowed to collect their rents from it, and that money will be used to enrich their life here on Earth. Meanwhile, the dregs of society will be sent off to work the land.

    You’re right that, except for some especially brave / foolhardy specimens, no American in their right mind would give up their life to live in some cooped up BioWorld eating their recycled feces and urine directing a bunch of robots to mine unobtanium from an asteroid. But ask a starving resident of Lagos, or the favelas of Rio, or the slums of Karachi and Mumbai, tell them that they could provide for their family if they sign up to be a slave for 10-20 years on some distant world, and I bet you’d find takers.

    There are people in this world, right now, who will sell you one of their kidneys. For a (disturbingly and heart-breakingly) low price. Not to mention their daughters for prostitution or their sons to a certain death in some distant battlefield. Outside of the comfortable confines of (parts of) the First World, life is surprisingly cheap, not to mention nasty, brutish, and short. Finding volunteers for a possibly suicidal, and very likely miserable existence on another planet is not really that hard.

    It’s not wanderlust that powers the vast armies of this world, it’s desperation and deprivation. The same forces that will be harnessed by billionaires like Musk to recruit their slaves when they go to Mars. Or do you think that as a Martian citizen, Musk will be cleaning his own toilet?

    1. I’m curious as to what would be on Mars or the Moon that pays back the investment of sending even slave labor there. There’s fortunes in precious metals on many asteroids, but it’s not currently cost effective to mine them. Colonization of the New World was profitable because there was sugar, tobacco, and cotton to be produced.

      1. Some of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, if you *believe* there’s profit to be made over there, then you will go bankrupt trying to make it, but in the process, you’ll advance the technology that’s needed for it to eventually be profitable.

        For example, Musk has said his whole reason to start SpaceX was to go to Mars. And since no one would sell him a rocket that could do it, he decided to build one himself. In the process, he’s drastically reduced launch costs for satellites. He probably won’t reach Mars (at least not in an industrial / commercial scale), but someone else will build off his advances to finally build a cheap interplanetary spaceship that all of a sudden makes mining in Mars feasible.

        It’s an old adage that the bleeding edge is doused in blood for a reason; the first movers usually go bankrupt and it’s the second movers that refine their advances that typically accomplish the mission.

        Colonizing the New World was the same: the original ships couldn’t reliably cross the ocean and get back and most people died, ensuring only wild-eyed dreamers and outlaw pirates risked their life for it. But eventually, ships were good enough that the journeys could be made reasonably safe and cheap, to the point where farming cotton in America vs say northern Africa was cheaper.

        IMHO, the question as to what is on Mars that is worth bringing back here is the more interesting one. Again, let’s look at the New World: none of the stuff they brought back from there, aside from gold, was *necessary*. Tobacco, sugar, spices from India, indigo, silk, none of these were necessary for life, and weren’t even part of the European economy. They were luxury goods: something to have that was valuable merely because it showed other people you were rich.

        My hunch is the same will be for goods from Mars. We have all the steel and coal and diamonds we need right here on Earth. That’s not what we’ll be importing, any more than England brought back salt from the Americas. What will be worth bringing from Mars is something we don’t yet have, don’t really need, but will convey immense status to the people who are able to buy it. Sort of like moon rocks, except much, much more expensive.

        Create a marketing campaign around some otherwise useless thing you can easily find on Mars (sort of like DeBeers does with diamonds, which is about as common as quartz in the Earth’s crust), control the supply to ensure its value (again, like what DeBeers does), and sooner or later, the rapidly dropping transportation costs will cross the rapidly increasing popularity of your new moon rock, and you will have a profitable business.

        I’m actually somewhat serious about this, so much so, that if I was planning a Martian startup, I would study DeBeers, not Rio Tinto. In general, our economy is built based on the availability (or lack thereof) of stuff on Earth. The reason we use steel to build our buildings, and paper to write on, is because both are common. Make them rare, and some other material common, and we’d have designed our economy for those other materials.

        This means that, almost by definition, whatever we find on Mars will not be valuable on Earth, unless we happen to luck out (like they did in the New World) and find something that is rare on Earth *and* that happens to be important to our economy, like gold. Barring, that, the stuff we find on Mars, at least initially, will not be valuable on Earth. That value will have to be created by clever marketing, and the easiest way to do is as a luxury status item. Perhaps eventually, the stuff on Mars becomes integrated into our economy such that its value moves beyond novelties and trinkets. At which point the trade will grow bigger. But until then, luxury and status are powerful enough drivers for New World colonization and exploitation.

  8. >> Space is a playground for physicists and researchers. It’s useless for the rest of us.

    For now, leave space exploration for the robots and rovers and probes. Let them explore, let us continue to learn. But I wouldn’t rule out a future, 100 years or 500 years from now, when the tradeoffs for human space exploration are different. Someday, it might make more sense.

    As for Musk and SpaceX, I always assumed his Mars talk was hype and self promotion and wishful thinking. But, his reality is Space X makes good money putting satellites and astronauts into space. He talks about colonization, but he has built a space taxi and trucking service that has its meter running and revenue coming in. Hype and wishful thinking are great marketing. Don’t forget other spin-off business that may come from this, like Starlink. So the guy brags and tells a fantastic story. They Space X reality seems more focused and pragmatic and businesslike.

      1. “ The U.S. space agency, NASA, said in a statement that SpaceX confirmed that the object was likely the remaining part of the jettisoned trunk segment from a Dragon spacecraft used during the Crew-1 mission’s return from the International Space Station in May last year. “If you believe you have identified a piece of debris, please do not attempt to handle or retrieve the debris,” NASA said.”

  9. The ELE that Musk talks about WILL happen. Sooner or later the biosphere killer asteroid/comet/whatever will arrive.

    But as you stated, the technical challenges, let alone the economic challenges, make a Mars colony silly, in the forseeable future. But, a orbital platform, where inhabitants could zip over to a devastated planet to pick up whatever, until Earth’s biosphere clears enough to support human life again, that is possible, even likely. There are a few things that zero-gee (or near zero-gee) production makes sense. I believe there are some pharmaceuticals that fit that framework.

    And a moon colony is also likely, though once again, has no real financial value, and would not be a long term project.

    Imagine if Musk and Bezos got into a vanity race to put James Webb II into a Lagrange position. It would be done within 2 years.

  10. There is one reason for going to outer space – the moon, mars, what ever- to justify NASA’s existence.

    What if the mission of NASA were to be refocused for practical reasons: satellite management; atmosphere sampling; environment monitoring, and other stuff I’m not smart enough to understand. IOW- no more joy rides in a tube at taxpayer or billionaire expense. I can understand that, even agreed with it, but nothing more.

    Interesting and entertaining piece, Chris.

    1. I don’t mind space tourism. I just feel it, like other obvious rich folk luxuries, should be mercilessly taxed to the bone. 200% surcharge on all rocket fuel. Put it in the same bill I would write that taxes yachts, 2nd homes, and uninhabited condos at 100% their market value yearly.

      You make a good point about these nerds (because in the end, they’re just pursuing nerd shit) being far more interested in terraforming Mars than applying the same technologies and intellectual rigor to boring old earth.

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