Remember that childhood dream you had to one day become an astronaut? For most of us, exploring open space felt grandiose. Then life happens, and we start living in the real world. Except for some of us…

See, there are many rich folks in the world. Being in the right place at the right time has worked out for people like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Of course, it also took grit, ambition, and talent. However, few can brag that they have been through countless failures just to fulfill their childhood dream. Actually, I can only think of one.

Elon Musk is the perfect example of what it means not to give up. Regardless of what you think about his business savvy, one thing is certain – it works. We only have to look at his recent Tesla Cybertruck marketing success. But the most interesting thing about him is not his entrepreneurship per se. Instead, it is the driving force behind all of his endeavors – the dream of colonizing Mars!

Elon Musk’s fascination with the Red Planet

You don’t need to look hard to find all kinds of ideas about life on Mars. They have been around for decades – just check out classic sci-fi! Stories about colonizing the Red Planet have been popping up since the ’60s. One of the most recent examples is The Martian by Andy Weir, which was also turned into a movie.

In light of that, we can hardly call Musk’s dream unique. Yet he might as well be the first person to have taken the idea seriously. While others speculate, he puts actual efforts in achieving that goal. He even has an entire plan. Why does he want that, though? It all depends on who you ask.

According to Musk himself, he decided to work on his dream when he had realized humankind needed a backup plan. So, what really fuels him is an interesting form of philanthropy. Or is it? Some of his critics have another explanation. Many see his endeavors as a way for him to become a major historical figure. He wants not only to be remembered for a few companies but a great achievement. In other words – with his colonization goals, he tries to pull the biggest publicity stunt ever.

Such criticisms are not without merit. People have questioned his decisions, pointing to seemingly better ways to “back up” humanity. But whether Musk wants to protect us from a possible third world war, or just wants to get even more famous, that hardly matters. At the end of the day, he is working on getting us there anyway. This is where we ask the real question – can he do that?

Musk’s ideas about colonizing Mars

Although SpaceX continues to draw attention, results are yet to be seen. If we look at Musk’s timeline, the first people to set foot on Mars will do so in 2024. Is it too optimistic? Maybe. Yet even if we see that happening, it tells us nothing about the actual colonization of Mars.

The eccentric entrepreneur has admitted that SpaceX is not really a colonization project. That seems to be far too grand a goal for the company. Instead, he aims to inspire governments and other companies to follow in his footsteps. In fact, he might already be doing just that. For example, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has its own goals, while NASA plans to send people back to the Moon in 2024.

Nevertheless, having people on the Red Planet does not mean much. Without proper plans and resources, they will just be stranded there. Doesn’t sound a lot like colonizing, does it? But let’s say that we participate in a team effort to transform Mars. What will that look like, according to Elon Musk?

What life on Mars should look like

The founder of Tesla and SpaceX has quite a few ideas on how we should go about these things. His ultimate vision is to have around one million people on Mars. Looking at his estimate, we can see that it should take us no more than 100 years to achieve that. But hear this – 100 years is the conservative number. Actually, Musk plans to have a self-sustaining city on Mars by 2050!

That seems nigh impossible, right? Well, Elon wants to use the power of capitalism to make the project feasible. He will work to significantly reduce the overall cost of the trip, while also figuring out specific jobs on the planet beforehand. To put it, he wants to make relocation there enticing. Plus, he thinks many will gladly move anyway.

Even though the details of his vision are sparse, we can infer a few other things. The first people to go there will probably not be able to do all that much. Calling it a virtual suicide mission may not be too far off. The most I see them doing is making it easier for other people to land, adjust to the place, and get to work. Not that this is anything small, but hardly a significant step.

Eventually, life on Mars should look somewhat like life on Earth. We have one problem, though – nobody is sure how the actual terraforming process is going to happen. In fact, it presents us with many unique challenges. Let’s see what those are!

What does science say about life on Mars?

If you think that Musk is the only one thinking about landing on Mars, you are wrong. NASA’s human exploration mission has set its goal to 2030. However, they only plan on visiting it for research purposes. As far as eventual colonization goes, a significant number of scientists are concerned with some very real problems in the face of it.

I have some bad news for the Mars hype train. It could turn out that a mission of that scope is impossible, at least with our current technology. In any case, 2050 may be way too early for such an endeavor. At this point, I suspect that Musk says his spectacular stuff just to gain attention with little regard to the issues. Here are some of them:

  • Atmosphere. Since Mars has quite a different air composition than Earth, this is a serious challenge. It barely has oxygen or nitrogen, and CO2 is sky-high. That means known life forms from our planet cannot thrive there. Now, consider how difficult it is to control our climate here on Earth. How can we expect to fix that on Mars? Scientists are yet to figure that out.
  • Temperature. The Red Planet challenges us with its drastically colder temperature (-81oF) as well. That being said, if we manage to figure out the atmosphere problem, this one will be a much easier thing to solve.
  • Gravity. This might as well be the most challenging issue to figure out. If we don’t manage to invent artificial gravity, life on Mars will be a nightmare. The human body is just not adapted to such conditions. Weak gravity leads to weak bones and muscles. Essentially, our bodies would deteriorate.
  • Water. Though there might be frozen water on Mars, extracting it can prove a challenge. If we do not succeed in that, we will have to make it synthetically somehow. Still, if we terraform the atmosphere, water might not be such a pain.
  • Plantlife.  Artificial sunlight will likely be a necessity if we want to make plant life possible. Even if we manage to get plenty of water, sun energy substitutes are a must. That may also be a necessity for humans since the sun is tied to many of our biological rhythms.

On top of all these issues, many scientists have come out saying the colonization is a futile project. Instead of spending resources on it, we should focus on fixing Earth right now. In fact, Musk’s other project – Tesla – is actually better in that regard. Since it spearheaded the EV revolution, we are at least moving in the right direction there.

With that said, we may still achieve some sort of compromise. Even if we let the Mars idea rest for a while, space colonization may still be feasible. We have the Moon, right? Not only is it closer, but there are already ideas of how to do it. There are also ways to get it integrated directly with Earth. To be honest, this would make for an interesting article on its own. Keep an eye out for it!

Will Elon Musk make life on Mars a reality?

In my day-to-day life, I am usually an extreme optimist. Yet, even so, I still don’t think that we will be colonizing Mars anytime soon. If you are paying attention to the tech field, you know that progress has been slowing for a while. That does not mean breakthroughs cannot happen, but they will likely be fewer and far between.

Plus, we can learn one thing from past generations’ predictions of the future – they rarely come true. Folks expected flying cars in the 21st century. Not many of those around, are they? What about the robots that should have taken every human job ever? I guess my smart vacuum cleaner will have to do.

I am still an optimist, but I like to be cautious with such grand predictions. Will we colonize Mars at some point? It seems inevitable to me, just not as soon as they say.

Where do you stand on that? Are you more of an optimist, or do you think I am right to be skeptical?


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