Marco Cáceres di Iorio

Just Dying to Go to Mars

I love the idea of going to Mars.  Of course, I have no idea how any nation or any company would pay for such an adventure.  But I still love the idea.  It’s a romantic notion about establishing a dual planet civilization or species.  It’s an awesome concept, and I congratulate Elon Musk for pushing it and giving us something to dream about.  NASA has been trying to do that for a long long time, but it has failed miserably.  Let’s face it, romantic adventures are not the stuff of government agencies, because agencies have to factor in boring things like annual budgets and having to convince Congress about the merits of their agendas and funding requests.

Mr. Musk doesn’t have to worry himself with details such as these.  My gosh, he doesn’t even have to worry about shareholders and the pressure they may bring to bear if SpaceX’s stock price dips and dividends drop… Because SpaceX is not publicly traded.  Perhaps eventually SpaceX may be taken public, but for now Mr. Musk is free to propose programs that seem outlandish to many people.  I don’t think they’re so outlandish.  I mean, you’ve got to start somewhere if this whole business of Mars exploration (… I mean the human kind, not just the rovers) is ever going to take hold in the public’s imagination and eventually be transformed into something real and pragmatic.

What Mr. Musk is doing is trying to sell the idea and get peoples’ attention.  He has mine.  Now, let’s see what he does over the next few years to put some meat on his plans.  Clearly, SpaceX has some great technology, a fair amount of money, lots of engineering talent and ambition, pure drive, and it has a super sales person.  You know what I liked most about Elon’s plans to go to Mars?  I liked what he said in response to a question someone posed to him about who he thought would make a good candidate for going on his Mars missions.  I’m paraphrasing here, but he responded: Uh, well, frankly someone who’s ready and willing to die.

Not exactly the most optimistic answer, but ever so truthful and realistic.  You see, this gets to the heart of space exploration.  It is a very dangerous business.  It was very dangerous when NASA was leading the way.  And it will be very dangerous when private industry leads the way, as it has now started to do.  This has been true for almost every major industry that involves carrying humans from point A to point B.  Space is no different.  Likely much harder, but essentially no different.

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