Elon Musk needs to clear one thing up. His mission to Mars is not an escape route from the perils on Earth for rich people, something his mission has been accused of several times. After all, tickets on a ship to Mars are going to likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. That sounds like a space journey for the wealthy. But, to be perfectly clear, those tickets won’t be purchasing a cushy or luxurious experience. To bring his point home, he told Peter Diamandis on XPRIZE, “Honestly, a bunch of people will probably die in the beginning.” He quickly added, “Volunteers only.”
Because this comment sounds so brash, people wanting to give the tech giant the benefit of the doubt may assume this statement is out of context or that Musk said this off the cuff. That seems like a safe assumption. After all, Musk is famously uncomfortable with public speaking, despite how much of it he does. He’s kind of an awkward guy. So he probably would have phrased that in a more friendly manner if given the chance to think ahead, right? Instead of being blunt, you would expect him to use gentler marketing speak. However, when Elon Musk laughed and said the trip wasn’t an escape hatch for rich people, but a trip where a bunch of folks are probably going to die, he was repeating himself. He said nearly the same thing in 2018 in an interview on AXIOS for HBO.
While discussing life on Mars for the first colonizers, he said, “Once you land successfully, you’ll be working nonstop to build the base. So, you know, not much time for leisure,” Elon Musk said. “And once you get there, even after doing all this, it’s a very harsh environment. So, there’s a good chance you die there.” He added, “We think you can come back but we’re not sure. Now, does that sound like an escape hatch for rich people?”
That sounds like a situation where the poor would be exploited, but again, Elon Musk has said the price will be about $200,000 per person. That isn’t the millions one might expect, but it isn’t a ticket price for everyone, either. It’s hard to imagine a bank financing your trip to another planet, where the guy in charge says you’ll likely die. So, why would anyone sign up to pay a few hundred thousand dollars to go work really hard on a new planet and likely die there? Musk compares this to climbing Mount Everest. Every spring, about 500 people climb the mountain. The numbers have doubled, though the rate of death stays the same. Why do people do that? Because they feel the call of the mountain, because they love the adventure of it, because they want to be a part of that mission.
During Eon Musk’s recent interview with Peter Diamandis, he said that the ad for a ticket to Mars should read like, “like that ad for Shackleton going to the Antarctic.” He’s referencing one of the most famous advertisements in history, that may or may not have been real. Shackleton reportedly put out an advertisement to find men to join him on his journey to explore Antarctica. The ad read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”. We aren’t sure the ad is real because no one has seen the actual paper it was printed on, but the story is often cited in copywriting classes.
So, though Elon Musk’s bluntness can be off putting, he seems to be doing that intentionally. He wants people to know it’s not a glamorous idea. He wants people to sign on who are willing to die and be in fairly miserable conditions in order to be part of the adventure of it all. Musk wants to build a colony on Mars and see a city get up to a population of a million. His timeline for these goals is always changing, but regularly sound impossible. He has big goals and needs dedicated volunteers only.
Will Elon Musk be joining those volunteers on Mars? He puts his own odds at about 70% of getting to the red planet. We can assume that he is leaving room for being busy, raising his kids, or maybe fear of all the misery and dying. However, the “glorious adventure” may win him over yet.
For those who really love space and want to go to Mars despite the blunt way that Elon Musk is advertising the adventure, he expects that to happen within the next decade.
As for other weird things Elon Musk is saying and doing, Saturday Night Live recently announced he’ll be hosting the show on May 8, 2021. Expect at least one skit about Mars.