Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and other pioneering tech companies, has been a vocal advocate for a future where humanity extends its presence beyond Earth. This article discusses Musk’s vision for human civilization as a multiplanetary species.
Becoming a Multiplanetary Species
At the heart of Musk’s philosophy is the belief that humans must become a multiplanetary species. He has frequently argued that the long-term survival of humanity depends on our ability to colonize other planets.
In 2016, during the International Astronautical Congress, Musk stated, “I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multiplanetary… in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.”1
Mars as the First Step
Elon Musk’s plan for a multiplanetary humanity has a distinct first step: the colonization of Mars. His reasons for choosing Mars as the initial focus are both practical and strategic.
Similarity to Earth
First, Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system. While it is not without its harsh conditions, Mars has some key attributes that make it an attractive candidate for colonization. It has polar ice caps made from water and a day/night cycle remarkably close to Earth’s — approximately 24.6 hours2. This similarity in day length could help ease the adjustment for colonists and support the rhythms of human life, including sleep and work cycles.
Accessibility and Resources
Mars is relatively accessible, especially when Earth and Mars align favorably in their orbits, an event known as opposition. This happens approximately every two years. During these times, a trip to Mars could take as little as six to nine months.
Moreover, Mars has resources that could be used to support a human settlement. Notably, the presence of water ice on the planet could be used for drinking, growing crops, and producing oxygen and hydrogen (for rocket fuel) through electrolysis.
Potential for Terraforming
Musk has expressed the belief that Mars could be terraformed, meaning its environment could be transformed to be more Earth-like and habitable for humans. In a series of tweets from 2018, Musk explained that the process could involve warming the planet by emitting greenhouse gases3, though he acknowledges that the process would be slow and challenging.
SpaceX and Starship
SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, is at the forefront of this multiplanetary endeavor. Central to this plan is the Starship, a fully reusable spaceship currently in development, which Musk envisions as the vehicle that will carry humans to Mars.
During the Starship’s design unveiling in 2019, Musk highlighted the importance of reusability in achieving his goals: “A rapidly reusable rocket is fundamentally the breakthrough that’s needed to make life multiplanetary.”4
Elon Musk’s plan to establish a colony on Mars and create a multiplanetary civilization has stirred debate and criticism across various sectors. These criticisms primarily focus on feasibility, ethics, and resource allocation.
Mars is a hostile environment for human life, with extreme cold, low pressure, a thin atmosphere with no breathable oxygen, high radiation levels, and global dust storms. Even with advanced technology, creating a self-sustaining, permanent human presence on Mars presents enormous challenges.
Moreover, Musk’s timeline has been criticized as overly optimistic. SpaceX aims to land humans on Mars within this decade, but given the complexity of the task, many experts have expressed doubts about this ambitious schedule.
Some critics raise ethical questions about colonizing Mars, especially regarding planetary protection. This principle is aimed at preventing contamination of celestial bodies with Earthly life and vice versa. The introduction of Earthly microbes could potentially disrupt or destroy any indigenous lifeforms or valuable scientific evidence of life.
The question of who gets to go to Mars is also a contentious issue. Will it be an opportunity available only to the wealthy or will it be a fair process that considers a wide variety of individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds?
Another common criticism involves resource allocation. Critics argue that the vast resources required for Mars colonization would be better spent addressing pressing issues here on Earth, such as poverty, climate change, and biodiversity loss.
Musk’s counter-argument is that his space ambitions constitute a small fraction of global wealth, and he emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the long-term survival of humanity.
Elon Musk’s vision for a multiplanetary human civilization has sparked both enthusiasm and debate. Regardless of differing opinions, Musk’s influence on space exploration and technological development is undeniable. His work and dedication to the cause are undoubtedly driving humanity forward in the quest for space colonization.
- Musk, Elon. “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species.” International Astronautical Congress, 2016.
- NASA. “Mars Facts.” NASA Science Mars Exploration Program, 2023.
- Musk, Elon (@elonmusk). “There’s a massive amount of CO2 on Mars adsorbed into soil that’d be released upon heating. With enough energy via artificial or natural (sun) fusion, you can terraform almost any large, rocky body.” Twitter, 19 November, 2018.
- Musk, Elon. “Starship Design Unveiling.” SpaceX, 28 September, 2019.