When Elon Musk heard the word “colonizer” in Black Panther, did he think it was a compliment?


Curious minds want to know.

Comments

  1. brett says

    It’s really strange that people are interpreting “maybe having a population on Mars would make it less likely that humanity and/or civilization could be wiped out by a single massive calamity” as “OMG Fuck the Earth!”. I have yet to see a single one of the New Space people take that latter attitude, and I highly doubt that includes Musk (would his other businesses be electric cars and solar panels if he truly believed in “fuck the Earth – I’ve got Mars”?).

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Keeping Martian conditions stable are hard.
    “Timing of oceans on Mars from shoreline deformation” http://www.nature.com/articles/nature26144 -Mars had shallow oceans on two separate occasions early on. The fossil shorelines are now mismatched because of crustal deformation after a massive volcanic massif formed.

  3. consciousness razor says

    brett:

    How many people will move to Mars, if the whole long-term plan goes as well as could be hoped by those who actually want it? And who will these people be? This will cost us a whole lot of something, so instead of doing things that can improve the lives of billions of people here with all of that something, we’ll be sending a small group of people to a thoroughly hostile planet.

    Their attitudes and expectations don’t make a difference here — for instance, that this will do a whole lot of good for humanity, and as a bonus, they will be the lucky few to experience fun-adventure-time in space, as opposed to what will probably be a pointless and miserable death in a frozen wasteland. Will they be better off or more safe than the people on Earth they left behind? I doubt it. But would we still have to spend an inordinate amount of resources on trying to keep a relative handful of people alive and well indefinitely, in an environment which is extremely inhospitable for life (never mind human beings), while billions of people across the globe get practically no help whatsoever? Yes, we certainly fucking would be doing that, as stupid as that sounds. Why is this near the top of anybody’s list of things we need to work on?

    And of course they’re not saying “fuck the Earth,” at least not to the press, when they’d like more people to support their cause. They are like people who believe the apocalypse is nigh and this time it will be great!!11! That’s still really fucked up, no matter how enthusiastic they are about it. Do they sincerely think this will be really good for us, because of robot uprisings or whatever the fuck? Sure, why not, I bet at least some of them do. It makes no difference to me.

  4. weylguy says

    #2 birgerjohansson

    We’ll need to restore Mars’ oceans if we’re to create a Great Garbage Patch on that planet.

  5. Elladan says

    Musk is a weird guy who has some strange ideas about some things. Despite that, a lot of the criticism of his Mars stuff is just bizarre.

    A couple years ago now, he gave a speech about how they were in early stage development of a cool new rocket. He talked a bit about how it could, in principle, be cheap enough that building a city on Mars would be theoretically possible — which, given that cost has always been the most critical limiting issue with space flight, is clearly relevant.

    As far as I could tell, the Internet’s critical response was: “LOL! Crazy Musk wants to dump passengers on Mars with nowhere to live! Will they even have space suits?!?!?!”

    A year or so later, he gives another speech about cool rockets. Response: “Musk is a crazy libertarian psychopath who wants to rich people to escape to Mars while the Earth burns!”

    Now we’ve got “Going to other planets is colonialism!” and “We don’t even know how to live on Mars!”

    It’s just… dumb. Like hey, guess what else we don’t know how to do: go to freaking Mars in the first place. Which is why the guy is, I don’t know, building a cool rocket…?

  6. brett says

    @consciousness razor

    It depends on who is proposing it. Musk was looking for enough people to fill out a major city’s worth of population at a minimum, at a cost low enough so that an average household in the US could afford to make the trip one-way if they wanted to. That’s the key right there – there’s no colony if it’s not cheap enough to actually send a large number of people there, and if it’s not possible for them to almost entirely support themselves on resources available at wherever they go. It’s not going to be some devastatingly huge expense compared to spending we do on basically everything else on Earth, just like it isn’t one now.

    And of course they’re not saying “fuck the Earth,” at least not to the press, when they’d like more people to support their cause.

    Don’t just look at what they’re saying, look what they’re doing. As I said, if Musk really did believe in “fuck the Earth” but didn’t want to say it out loud, would his other two companies be electric cars and solar power?

  7. fossboxer says

    Musk launches his fucking car into a heliocentric orbit in some sort of pan-heavy-metal fantasy to stroke his ego. Same with this “Mars or Bust!” nonsense. The guy is a narcissist billionaire with a big box of the best legos money can buy. NASA has done some really awesome things in space—like, you know, real science. It’s sad watching it fall into disrepair as our federal government continues its precipitous descent into irrelevancy.

    Meanwhile, Bill Gates is trying to eradicate malaria.

  8. consciousness razor says

    I highly doubt that includes Musk (would his other businesses be electric cars and solar panels if he truly believed in “fuck the Earth – I’ve got Mars”?).

    Wouldn’t they be? Good electric cars and solar panels would be very useful technology to have on Mars, since there’s no coal to mine or oil to drill (among many other things). If his other businesses didn’t have a credible application to a Mars colony, then maybe this would be more informative. Even so, he’s made billions … if he had lived in a slightly different time, electric cars and solar panels may not have been as profitable and may not have seemed like such an attractive opportunity. But the dear leader is definitely not doing all of this just to make things better for us peasants. If he were, would his bank accounts look so big?

  9. Dunc says

    Like hey, guess what else we don’t know how to do: go to freaking Mars in the first place. Which is why the guy is, I don’t know, building a cool rocket…?

    Yeah, but “build a cool rocket” is to colonising Mars what “build Tyrannosaur-proof enclosures” is to creating a theme-park full of cloned dinosaurs: very much not your biggest problem, and probably not where any reasonable person with a full understanding of the scope and difficulty of the project would start.

  10. Elladan says

    Dunc @9:
    Pray tell where would a reasonable person with a full understanding of the scope and difficulty of the project start, then?
    I mean, given that we’ve never sent people to Mars and can’t go there.
    The rocket at least has other applications besides Mars.

  11. brett says

    @9 Dunc

    It’s not so much building a cool rocket as building a much cheaper rocket, and that definitely is the first step towards this kind of project. The cost of putting stuff into space and doing in-space operations is by far the biggest barrier to any sort of human space program.

  12. Usernames! 🦑 says

    Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) went through a genetic bottleneck approximately 10-12,000 years ago [free version] (and one even earlier, >100,000 years ago), thus they have a very limited genetic pool.

    According to the Terrell paper, cheetahs in captive breeding programs (actively bred to maintain genetic diversity) are more genetically diverse than wild cheetahs. Genetic diversity is required for long-term survival of a species.

    What this might mean for a future Elon Musk mars colony is there will be a required colonist ‘breeding’ program, where your mate is selected for you, with the goal to maintain genetic diversity.

  13. Elladan says

    consciousness razor @8:
    So let me get this straight: Musk co-founded a company whose basic purpose is to provide financing and install solar panels for people who can’t afford the up-front cost, because he has an evil scheme to do that on Mars. And electric cars.
    It sure would be terrible if all these nefarious Mars plans helped people here on Earth, wouldn’t it?

  14. Dunc says

    Elladan, @ #10: Probably with trying to grapple with the massive problem of maintaining a closed, self-sustaining biosphere, which we also haven’t the first clue how to do, and also has many other applications besides Mars. At least on the rocketry side, we’ve been able to send stuff to Mars since the 1970s.

    One of the biggest threats to our survival here on Earth is that we’re rapidly turning our best agricultural land into desert. If we plan to learn how to turn desert into farmland, it has massive applications right here.

  15. iiandyiiii says

    While I think Musk’s ideas about Mars might be pie in the sky at best, and ridiculous at worst, I’m not sure if it’s reasonable to compare them to colonialism. 99.9% of why colonialism was bad was because of how it affected the native population — mass theft, enslavement, brutality, rape, oppression, and murder. Unless there are some Martians hiding out, this won’t be a concern for any possible colonization of Mars.

  16. consciousness razor says

    Musk was looking for enough people to fill out a major city’s worth of population at a minimum, at a cost low enough so that an average household in the US could afford to make the trip one-way if they wanted to.

    Perhaps if they spent everything they had. And that doesn’t suggest they could afford a way back home. That’s the trip. What then? Somehow a major city just appears on Mars — I may as well give you that one for free, since we’re only playing pretend anyway. And then, I suppose they grind away at rocks all day, in order to buy everything they need at the Musk Co. Store. Sounds dreamy. They can finally go Galt, for real this time — in space!

    What happens if they don’t get (at minimum) millions of these moderately-rich people to sign up? Just a big waste of time and some dead people? And what about the majority of the people on the planet, who wouldn’t be able to afford it? We should be happy with this plan, because…?

  17. brett says

    @17 consciousness razor

    What happens if they don’t get (at minimum) millions of these moderately-rich people to sign up? Just a big waste of time and some dead people? And what about the majority of the people on the planet, who wouldn’t be able to afford it? We should be happy with this plan, because…?

    If nobody wants to join them on Mars, then all that happens is that the existing population continues on, or maybe slowly filters back to Earth on the return trips. Or the city never gets built in the first place, because not enough people want to live there. I don’t see what the problem is – if nobody wants to live permanently on Mars, then nobody will go without a guaranteed return trip. It would just stay as a research base.

    And what about the majority of the people on the planet, who wouldn’t be able to afford it? We should be happy with this plan, because…?

    You could just ignore the people on Mars. Do people the world round care if or when Americans decide to move to wherever in the Sunbelt? If we’re that far along, then it’s people paying for their own tickets anyways.

  18. Dunc says

    The cost of putting stuff into space and doing in-space operations is by far the biggest barrier to any sort of human space program.

    I would disagree. It’s just engineering, and we already have at least one solution: throw more money at the problem. Keeping people alive in space for long terms and establishing even partially self-sustaining biospheres are things that we currently have absolutely no solutions for, and without that, rockets are just expensive coffins.

  19. Callinectes says

    I think “just humans: not plants, animals, or microbes” is part of the problem.

  20. brett says

    @18 Dunc

    It’s not just engineering. Political problems are an issue as well, and the biggest political problem is that this is all still very expensive just to get hardware and people into space and keep them there for long periods of time.

    @19 Callinectes

    We need the microbes and plants, at the very least. That’s just for living in a buried metal tube on Mars, as well.

  21. jack16 says

    Would someone say something about E. M. ‘s plan to provide broadband for everyone!

    Sounded good to me.

    jack16

  22. randall says

    Partly cf. Dunc, et al., but we’ve already shown we can’t even make a sustainable biome in isolation, even in the middle of an operating one we are busy ruining. And even with all the blather about Musk’s rockets, he hasn’t done anything that NASA hadn’t already done as much as 50 years ago.

  23. Dunc says

    Look at it this way: if you want to develop a catapult-launched glider, you work on the glider first. Firstly, because without the glider, the catapult is just a clever way of throwing yourself off a cliff. Secindly, until you’ve got the glider sorted out, you don’t even know exactly what you’re trying to launch. Now, sure, at some point you need to start testing the glider in real conditions, and for that you’ll need at least a rudimentary catapult, but you certainly don’t put all your effort into building better and better catapults until you’ve got a fairly solid glider design.

    In this analogy, the glider is the technology you need to survive in space or on Mars, and rockets are the catapult. At this stage, we don’t even have a decent idea of what the glider looks like. We have some rough ideas, but the prototypes glide like stones, and we’re not actually any closer to having a working glider than Leonardo was.

    Meanwhile, Musk is working on a really good way of hurling people off cliffs, and he can do it cheaper than ever before…

  24. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Dunc: “…rockets are just expensive coffins.”

    Actually, if you build them wrong–and I see no evidence that Elon is doing it right yet–then rockets are expensive crematoria.

  25. SenseOfTheAbsurd says

    If by some crazy miracle they managed to send settlers to Mars, I can see it being Greenland II on a more spectacular scale. Scratch a living whilst contact is maintained with the motherland, but as soon as there’s any disruption to the supply ships swinging by, or things on Earth get so bad that they’re just forgotten about or the company responsible for the project goes bankrupt or decides to cut them loose, then they’ll starve.

  26. Elladan says

    Dunc @14:
    Building closed (for very limited values of closed) biospheres is absolutely a worthy thing for people to work on, and also an area where less work has been done than it deserves.
    Why would someone interested in Mars start there? After all, we can’t even send people to Mars, and we absolutely do not have the rocket engineering examples yet to show it can be done.
    If you want to design a Mars colony, and in particular its food and industry needs, you need to actually know more about Mars. That means robots (in progress) and explorers going there and learning what it’s like for people.
    There’s nothing stopping anyone from working on the biology side at the same time. Why should the crazy rocket man stop what he’s doing and work on it instead?

  27. Elladan says

    Randall @22:

    And even with all the blather about Musk’s rockets, he hasn’t done anything that NASA hadn’t already done as much as 50 years ago.

    They made them cheaper. His company’s rocket engines are technically impressive in certain ways, and the new rocket’s engines are impressive in more ways. Landing the first stage and refurbishing it cheaply has been a dream for decades. Really nothing?

    To be honest though, SpaceX developed their rockets with NASA money, just like NASA paid contractors the develop rockets during the Apollo and Shuttle programs. The managerial structure and operations staff work differently, but acting like NASA and SpaceX aren’t closely related is wrong. It’s just a slightly more hands-off version of the military-industrial complex system.

  28. says

    Even if you can operate a successful, self supportingl colony on Mars it really isn’t much use if something goes wrong back on Earth. The colonists can’t bring enough of anything back from Mars to help more than a few people on Earth. Not to mention the first thing they’ll need to do after arriving is spend weeks or months re-adapting to life in a 1 G environment. Unless of course they’re Mars born people, who will have an even harder time adjusting to Earth’s gravity. The travel time between Earth and Mars isn’t going to help either. Even if the colonists can help they may be too late to do anything anyways.

  29. says

    . 99.9% of why colonialism was bad was because of how it affected the native population — mass theft, enslavement, brutality, rape, oppression, and murder.

    Howd’ya think the resources for this megalomaniac project are being acquired?
    Also, the point isn’t so much whether there’s people on Mars who are being affected, but the mindset in which some rich white men think that they know so much better than everybody else.
    As mentioned before, there are numerous applications for all the things you would require on Mars here on Earth. To spend the resources on getting that shit to Mars instead of using it on Earth is plain unethical.

  30. says

    @15, iiandyiiii

    Unless there are some Martians hiding out, this won’t be a concern for any possible colonization of Mars.

    That’s what They want you to think, so they can get away with it.

  31. Dunc says

    There’s nothing stopping anyone from working on the biology side at the same time. Why should the crazy rocket man stop what he’s doing and work on it instead?

    But nobody is working on the biology side. I’m not even saying he should necessarily stop working on the rocketry, just that the total lack of anybody doing much of anything on the other, much more challenging aspects of the problem means that focusing entirely on rocketry is a waste of time. It’s too early to be worrying about how we build a closed biosphere on Mars, because we can’t even get close to it under the best possible conditions here on Earth. It’s not our lack of knowledge of Mars that’s the issue right now.

    It’s like the drunk looking for his car keys under the streetlight… We’re focusing on rocketry because that’s what we already know how to do, but we don’t even know where to start on the really difficult problem of staying alive.

  32. Elladan says

    Also regarding the very real issue of biomes, I find out it strange that people e.g. Dunc @18 propose that the very real and difficult engineering problems involved in building a Mars rocket (which includes the robotic fuel and oxidizer factories, or it’s never coming back) can be waved away by “throwing money at the problem” while the biology issues cannot.

    Do you see the problem of a partially self-sustaining farm as fundamentally unsolvable, even if someone pays for a 100x or 1000x increase in research funding? Why? Or rather, why is that the real problem while giant space rockets can just be hand-waved away?

    If you want to argue that people tend to hand-wave the biology issues, well, that’s true. And they shouldn’t.

  33. Dunc says

    Elladan, @ #32: No, I don’t see those problems as “fundamentally unsolvable”, but I do see them as at least a couple of orders of magnitude more difficult, and I think the necessary basic science is much less well developed. The basic science underlying the rocketry is well established – that’s why I say it’s “just engineering”. The basic science we would need to establish anything close to a self-sustaining closed biosphere is still at the stage where we don’t even know what we don’t know. We haven’t even really the basic parameters of our ignorance.

  34. Dunc says

    Brain Pansky, @#33: Sure, but people are talking about Mars as a lifeboat in the event something catastrophic happens to Earth. An outpost that’s 100% dependent on constant resupply is no use for that. Plus the logistics of resulting resupplying a Martian outpost are rather more challenging, so most people seem to think it would need to be at least partially self-sustaining.

  35. Mark Jacobson says

    Humans have yet to figure out how to make a small self-sustaining human settlement on Earth.

  36. Elladan says

    Dunc @ #34-35:
    But it doesn’t need to be self-sustaining to go to Mars. If you just want to land, do some research, and come home what you need is a life support system and a logistics plan for supplies.

    It doesn’t need to be fully self-sustaining if you want a small base, either. For starters, it’s Mars, not outer space. There’s CO2, ice, regolith, and supply rockets. One piece would be a logistics plan to evacuate people.

    That’s not to hand-wave away the problem, just to say that the actual problems to solve are specific to Mars and aren’t the same as closed-loop life support. There’s also no reason to think they have to be solved before someone flies in a rocket.

    The engineering problems, though, are very real. How do you do reliable life support? The ISS machines seem to break down a lot, and they have resupply for parts. Will your radiation shelter work? Can semi-autonomous rocket fuel factories work? Can you light large cryogenic rocket engines after months in orbit?

    The whole talk about Mars as a lifeboat is a red herring. It’s a dream, which could only happen after centuries of work to make a colony self-sufficient. It’s a destination, not a starting point.

  37. consciousness razor says

    The international space station isn’t a closed biosphere, and it’s done ok.

    For fuck’s sake. Wiki will tell you it’s 200 miles from the surface, a volume of 931 m^3, a maximum crew of six highly-trained individuals, and we send supplies up to it every month or so, at a cost of roughly $7.5 million/(person*day) for 2000-2015 spent by dozens of countries.

    I really like the ISS. People have done a lot of good work up there. And it’s a shame that it’ll be decommissioned within the next 10 years.

    Absolutely none of that is okay when we’re talking about a Mars colony. And if that’s what our humanity-saving lifeboat would be like, then we’d be totally fucked.

  38. says

    But it doesn’t need to be self-sustaining to go to Mars. If you just want to land, do some research, and come home what you need is a life support system and a logistics plan for supplies.

    And what again makes it reasonable to spend these resources in a world where people are starving?

  39. Dunc says

    Elladan, @ #37: If you just want to land and do some research, robots are probably the best option for now. Eventually maybe send some people, fine. That’s not what I’m taking about, or arguing against, and it’s not what Musk is taking about either. You want to have an entirely different conversation on a subject that’s only tangentially related, knock yourself out.

  40. brett says

    @#41 Dunc

    If it’s just for scientific purposes, I think it will all robot for quite a while. Technology that makes it cheaper to do rocket launches also make it cheaper to send bigger robots, and bigger robots can carry better hardware and computers.

    @#38 consciousness razor

    I guess there’s that Deep Space Gateway around the Moon that they’ve proposed, to give SLS and the Orion spacecraft something to do. Same type of stuff, except closer to the Moon. We’re going to need something like that for any Sample Return missions as well, since Planetary Protection means we got to be very cautious about bringing anything back to Earth if there’s a chance it was located somewhere that native life might be extant.

  41. says

    @consciousness razor

    Yes, that’s another step closer to a realistic analysis, and away from simplistic irrelevancies. People can google economic ideas for Mars if they are interested. I don’t claim to be able to solve the calculation problem for the real situation from my armchair in a few paragraphs. And admittedly I’m not that motivated to figure out this specific case of the calculation problem, when clearly the general problem has to be solved first.

  42. unclefrogy says

    blockquote>colonialism was bad was because of how it affected the native population — mass theft, enslavement, brutality, rape, oppression, and murder. Unless there are some Martians hiding out, this won’t be a concern for any possible colonization of Mars.
    while I do not disagree that colonization has been devastating to the native inhabitants here on earth that is not the only way it can happen. Does anyone really think that an individual or corporation that puts up the money will not tend to exploit the people (workers) they ship all that way. The examples of exploitation and abuse of workers here and now on earth are trivial to find. E. Musk has not been immune to criticism in this regard.. Once you are there you will be at the complete mercy of who ever is in control. It will be not just be a company town it will be a company planet with no where to go with out a choice.
    uncle frogy

  43. brett says

    @#43 unclefrogy

    Once you are there you will be at the complete mercy of who ever is in control. It will be not just be a company town it will be a company planet with no where to go with out a choice.

    It will be a “company town” where the company is several light-minutes away in communication at the minimum, and at least six months or more from being able to send anyone out even if the timing is right to do so (the best time to transit from Earth to Mars only opens up about once every two years). The company’s main threat would be simply to cut off the next wave of supplies, assuming they were even allowed to do so by laws back on Earth.

    That’s not a situation that leaves people at the complete mercy on Mars. It’s one where the colonists have a tremendous amount of power to turn the situation to their control, because the company can’t quickly respond. Think of the astronauts on Skylab when they went on strike, and told NASA to fuck off for a day before coming back with a list of demands.

  44. consciousness razor says

    It will be a “company town” where the company is several light-minutes away in communication at the minimum, and at least six months or more from being able to send anyone out even if the timing is right to do so (the best time to transit from Earth to Mars only opens up about once every two years).

    Why wouldn’t the company (or its official representatives) be on Mars? I mean, it’d be a crappy place to live, so I’d understand that choice, but they wouldn’t need to remain on Earth.

    The company’s main threat would be simply to cut off the next wave of supplies, assuming they were even allowed to do so by laws back on Earth.

    We don’t have laws telling companies they must send their products to specific locations, overseas or to other planets or to anywhere else. Even if they came up with something like that, there would still be a bunch of questions about who would have jurisdiction. What if the Martians have their own sovereign country (or multiple ones)? You were imagining millions of people there, after all. So why even talk about laws back on Earth? Those may not be relevant at all.

    That’s not a situation that leaves people at the complete mercy on Mars. It’s one where the colonists have a tremendous amount of power to turn the situation to their control, because the company can’t quickly respond.

    Same questions as above. I don’t know why the company couldn’t have its own officials and private security on Mars (including the headquarters, etc.), in order to maintain control. People on Earth can be in that kind of situation, and so can colonists on Mars. Being somewhere else doesn’t change that. There is another difference, however, that unclefrogy was pointing out: political refugees on Earth do at least have other political entities that they could appeal to, which may be able to do something about it, they have other places where they could conceivably go and survive on this habitable planet, and so forth. That’s what Martians won’t have, unless they take a hell of a lot of precautions before they even think about leaving.

    They have to think “it’s not good enough that I trust Musk is a good guy who will make good choices because he makes solar panels; we need to have systems in place for ourselves. I don’t wish to be a part of his wet dreams no matter what they may be like; instead, I need to not trust all of his decisions blindly or handwave them away, so that I start to think about this stuff very carefully and realistically before it becomes a huge problem.” But the kind of people we’re talking about don’t seem to want to do that. It’s all leaps of faith and pie in the sky and practically everything is seen through rose-colored glasses. That’s not a good sign.

  45. unclefrogy says

    one off the things that make some kinds of abuse very easy is the difficulty with any form of oversight. Just how is anyone supposed to get independent sources of information about conditions. CNN wont be sending any journalists with camera crew. What does anyone think will be the choices made when stock price and Company reputation is at stake?
    uncle frogy

  46. Artor says

    When JFK announced his race to reach the Moon, it was a huge boon to the American economy, and stimulated new advances in technology we wouldn’t have gained otherwise. It also inspired a generation or two of kids to get involved in the sciences. The moon itself was no prize. We haven’t bothered going back in 40 years now. Perhaps in the near future it will be worthwhile. But even if a Mars colony doesn’t happen for another 100 years, the striving for it will provide returns long before then.

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