Daring to Dream Big

Elon Musk’s ambitions for Mars are part and parcel of a growing optimism in America.

I’m very lucky in that my teenage daughter still thinks her dad is cool enough to hang out with, and even luckier in that she actually likes to see the movies I watched back when I was her age. So yesterday I grabbed the remote and dowloaded a copy of 2010, Peter Hyams’ sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Now before you sci-if purists out there start giving me a hard time, yes my daughter had already seen 2001, and yes I explained to her that 2010 is a very different film from its predecessor and cannot be compared for that reason. Hyams did, however, work directly with Arthur C. Clarke on adapting his novel in a mostly faithful way, and the result was a real piece of science fiction that built upon the original film without ruining everything fans loved about it—at least in my admittedly humble opinion.

Watching 2010 from the perspective of the year 2018, though, is kind of a weird experience—and not just because of its 1984 perspective on what day-to-day life would be like thirty years in the future. It was more because of the film’s absolute confidence that by 2001, mankind really would build a huge spaceship that could go to Jupiter and that by 2010 we would be even more advanced in our colonization of the solar system.

The reality, if you’ll pardon the expression, has been a lot less stellar than that. Fifty years after setting foot on the moon, humanity has barely even mustered the effort to send humans into low Earth orbit, much less another planet. All that, however, might be ready to change—and not just because we have finally created the technology to make space travel more practically feasible. Even if we have the ability to go, we still need a reason to do it—a spirit of adventure, coupled with the confidence that we, as Americans, can achieve anything. It’s a spirit that was largely diminished in the lost decade under the Obama administration, when all the experts said America‘s best days were in the past and we should just settle for less because that was the new normal.

The hell with that. If anything, the era of Trump has proven—for all his bombast—that decline is a choice. We can choose the path of greatness instead, and all it takes is a refusal to accept that some things just can’t be done. We’ve seen it happen with an economy that came roaring back to life after so many had declared it dead. And now, building on that achievement, perhaps the greatest adventure of all will resume.

And if SpaceX founder Elon Musk has his way, it might happen a lot sooner than anyone imagined:

Musk held a surprise question and answer session at the annual technology and culture festival in Austin, Texas on Sunday. The billionaire told attendees that "we are building the first Mars, or interplanetary ship, and I think we'll be able to do short trips, flights by first half of next year."

SpaceX's BFR rocket system is expected to have capabilities for interplanetary travel, and be fully reusable. A flight will cost less than the initial Falcon 1 flights, which Musk pegged in the $5 to $6 million range.

He hopes if BFR launches, others will believe Mars travel is possible, and follow suit.

"The biggest thing that would be helpful is just general support and encouragement and goodwill," Musk said. "I think once we build it we'll have a point of proof something that other companies and countries can go and do. They certainly don't think it's possible, but if we do they'll up their game."

Musk, nothing if not a consummate showman, does admit that he has missed more than a few of his ambitious deadlines in the past, but he is determined nonetheless to send humans to Mars—and it’s doubtful he’ll be content to allow another fifty years to pass before our next great interplanetary jump.

Comments
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Marc Giller
Marc Giller

Editor

Fair point, and I've never been a big fan of his Tesla business model. Doesn't mean I can't admire him for being a driver of space exploration, which has languished under government oversight for decades--and the best part is that, in this case at least, substantial private money is funding it.

Bdsconserv
Bdsconserv

Not to rain on your enthusiasm, but hasn’t Musk made a lot of his fortune on the backs of the taxpayers? He’s had millions in subsidies from the federal government, i.e., us. Nice work if you can get it.