It is stunning that anyone still thinks Elon Musk is a smart guy. Shannon Stirone tears into one of his recent performances, in which he read from Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot and took exactly the wrong message away from it.
Musk reads from Sagan’s book: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.”
But there Musk cuts himself off and begins to laugh. He says with incredulity, “This is not true. This is false––Mars.”
He couldn’t be more wrong. Mars? Mars is a hellhole. The central thing about Mars is that it is not Earth, not even close. In fact, the only things our planet and Mars really have in common is that both are rocky planets with some water ice and both have robots (and Mars doesn’t even have that many).
Read: Can we still go to Mars?
Mars has a very thin atmosphere; it has no magnetic field to help protect its surface from radiation from the sun or galactic cosmic rays; it has no breathable air and the average surface temperature is a deadly 80 degrees below zero. Musk thinks that Mars is like Earth? For humans to live there in any capacity they would need to build tunnels and live underground, and what is not enticing about living in a tunnel lined with SAD lamps and trying to grow lettuce with UV lights? So long deep breaths outside and walks without the security of a bulky spacesuit, knowing that if you’re out on an extravehicular activity and something happens, you’ve got an excruciatingly painful 60-second death waiting for you. Granted, walking around on Mars would be a life-changing, amazing, profound experience. But visiting as a proof of technology or to expand the frontier of human possibility is very different from living there. It is not in the realm of hospitable to humans. Mars will kill you.
If anything, you’d think that the recent and ongoing confinement due to the pandemic would hammer that lesson home: most people don’t want to live in a tin can, where the outside is deadly and nasty and unpleasant. We’re just dealing with a mundane virus, not a hostile atmosphere, and people are freaking out over wearing a mask and not going to a restaurant now and then. Imagine…you have to wear an airtight suit and bring a tank of your atmosphere if you go out, and you have to recycle your poop in order to grow lettuce. This is what Musk thinks is a desirable future for other people, but not him, oh no. You’d have to be crazy to colonize Mars yourself.
This is an accurate summing up.
The influence Musk is having on a generation of people could not be more different. Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter. He seems to have missed one of the other lines from Pale Blue Dot: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”