Speaking at a Q&A session at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, SpaceX billionaire and visionary Elon Musk spoke at length on one of his pet topics, Mars and its imminent colonization.
Musk said that SpaceX was in the process of building an “interplanetary ship,” which, obviously, is the first step towards realizing his super-ambitious dream of colonizing the red planet.
In spite of the fact that his exaggerated and unrealistic timelines have been questioned in the past, Musk is bravely optimistic that his company will be able to launch a series of “short up and down flights,” to start with, as early as under six months into the next year.
“People have told me that my timelines historically have been optimistic.” Musk conceded. “I’m trying to ‘recalibrate’ to some degree here.”
“We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now,” Musk told screenwriter Jonathan Nolan at the Austin venue. “And we’ll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year.”
BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, as Musk prefers to call his future Mars vehicle, is “a bit of a Rorschach test in acronym form,” he said. However, “it’s very big.”
Clearing the general misconception that the colonization of Mars would mainly serve as “an escape hatch for rich people,” Musk said that it was far from the truth, going on to say that it was a dangerous undertaking that could even sound the death knell for some, but “excitement” for those who manage to come out of it alive.
“For the people who go to Mars, it’ll be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers. ‘Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive.’ That kind of thing,” he said.
He said that despite the risks involved in going at the start, there were people for whom the thrill of the adventure into the “next frontier” would take precedence over everything else.
“There’s already people who want to go in the beginning. There will be some for whom the excitement of exploration and the next frontier exceeds the danger,” he said.
Speaking about the probability of another dark age, which could well be the fallout of a possible third world war, Musk said that a self-sufficient base away from the planet had the potential to save the human race from complete obliteration. And, he feels that Mars offered better survival chances than our only natural satellite –the Moon.
Musk believes that “it’s unlikely that we will never have another world war,” and before that eventuality takes place, he would prefer to have as many people on Mars as possible, to ensure that the human race does not go the way of the dinosaurs.
Should a nuclear conflict break out on earth, “we want to make sure there’s enough of a seed of civilization somewhere else to bring civilization back and perhaps shorten the length of the dark ages. I think that’s why it’s important to get a self-sustaining base, ideally on Mars, because it’s more likely to survive than a moon base,” said the ambitious entrepreneur.
Musk is confident that his initiative will provide the proof of the pudding, so to speak, thereby encouraging other nations to follow suit, at least in so far as building interplanetary spaceships is concerned. He sees it as a huge “entrepreneurial opportunity.”
“Once we have it, we’ll have a sort of point of proof, something that other countries and companies will go and do,” he said.
Taking it a step or two further, he said that his Mars endeavor would herald a larger world participation in terms of building the infrastructure necessary for the colonization of his dream planet, ranging from “iron foundries to pizza joints to nightclubs.”
The man even envisions a “direct democracy” kind of government on the red planet, allowing the colonizers to vote directly on specific issues, rather than having a representative government. “Most likely, the form of government on Mars would be somewhat of a direct democracy.”
“Maybe it requires 60% [majority vote] to get a law in place, but any number over 40% can remove a law,” Musk said. That way it would be “easier to get rid of a rule than to put one in,” he added.
According to the SpaceX bigwig, having too many regulations to contend with could be detrimental to the progress of society, leading to what he eloquently referred to as the “hardening of the artery of the civilization.”
Speaking on Artificial Intelligence, Musk reiterated his stance on the contentious technology, at least in his opinion, saying that regulating AI was of utmost importance.
“Mark my words: AI is far more dangerous than nukes,’ he said. “I’m very close to the cutting edge of AI and it scares the hell out of me,” he admitted.
“I’m not normally advocate of regulation and oversight. This is a very serious danger to public therefore there needs to be public body that has insight and oversight,’ said the billionaire.
And, here’s his take on autonomous vehicles: “By the end of next year, self-driving will encompass essentially all modes of driving and be at least 100-200% safer than a person. We’re talking maybe 18 months from now.”
While all of that is happening, Musk’s cherry-red Tesla roadster and its dummy pilot Starman, launched into space atop a Falcon Heavy rocket early last month, are drifting farther and farther away from earth as telescopes continue to track the car in space.
According to calculations by Czech and Canadian researchers, the car and its passenger have a good chance of continuing to remain in space for tens of millions of years before crashing back into Earth or Venus.
While researchers give the car a 6% probability of crashing into earth, it has a 2.5% chance of colliding with Venus and little or no chance of hitting either the Sun or Mars in the next million years or so.
Watch the SXSW 2018 event here