Elon can’t save us. He’d like to, but can’t.
— Feb 21, 2017 —
Did life emerge on Mars and can human life expand to Mars? Those are the twin-Martian-life questions. Answering the first will require a long-term human presence and answering the second without looking into a possible endemic threat … well that’s better as a SciFi story than as a real scenario. These aren’t coincidental twins, they’re fundamental. They’re questions asked by animated matter that has evolved to consider itself, and Mars is the object because it is the best twin-target in our solar system.
That’s all fine, but how to answer the twins? We cannot know all the steps on a path to the answers. We may know a few early steps, and wondering about farther steps can be great fun, but we know we’ll learn along the way. Humans do this sort of thing – engage in emergent development – and always have. A writer finds a story by writing it. Newton invents calculus because he needs a better tool. Answering the twins will require an emergent programme spanning a generation or more.
A definition: us and we refer to those interested in the twin-Martian-life questions.
Will NASA save us? The United States is either cancelling its fourth human Mars programme or adhering to a policy of spending billions on a rocket and capsule that might form part of a partially defined and otherwise unfunded mission. The lifespan of a government administration is incongruous with a generation-long programme.
Will the nations of Earth set aside their differences and save us through a generation-long programme of collaborative wonderfulness? Not likely.
Will Elon Musk save us? He hasn’t the money. The SpaceX-alone plan relies on huge profits from a satellite Internet gambit, which will face competition and thus not reap huge profits. How about a Billionaire Boys Club headed by Elon? Talk about herding cats! It would take a huge cat to herd a bunch of … well … really big cats. Realistically, would billionaires play well together over the span of several decades? As for a massive public-private partnership run by Elon, that is less likely than the nations-of-Earth thing.
Do we need to be saved? Are space enthusiasts an oppressed people in need of a saviour? Is a paternalistic government required? How about global peace, do we need that before Mars? No, to all of that, no!
New Space is half the answer. By bringing commercial practices to space, New Space can make answering the twin-Martian questions more affordable. The other half of the answer is the demand side – whatever or whoever pays New Space. Space enthusiasts can spend their enthusiasm trying to convince governments to pay for what enthusiasts want or they can spend their enthusiasm to buy space exploration. The former summarises the last forty-five years. The latter is The Martian Trust.
General Manager, The Martian Trust