(credit: Space X video)
Musk Endeavors to Make Reality Catch Up with Science Fiction
Elon Musk is nutty as a fruitcake. He has to be to dream this big and have any chance of reaching those dreams. Musk and others like him are the only ones with enough passion who can.
Of course, it helps to have a lot of money, and Musk has accumulated plenty of it, mostly on risky ventures and big dreams. But none of those dreams compares to what he placed on the far horizons Monday for his company SpaceX – a fleet of massive rockets, each capable of carrying 100 people to colonize Mars, or even travel farther out in the Solar System. His goal: to seed a million-person colony on Mars.
This isn’t a shoot for the Moon space race. It’s an interplanetary triathlon, with the aim of not who can cross the finish line first, but who can get there at all. Musk is determined to get there, and hopes other space initiatives spawned by similar dreamers are inspire to set forth on their own adventures. Mars is a small planet, but big enough to host a number of interplanetary visionaries with their own plans on how to reach and colonize the Red Planet.
Driven by Science Fiction
There’s no mistaking the impact that science fiction has had on Musk’s vision of future reality. The passenger ship for Mars colonists and explorers has an Art Deco aesthetic to it, similar to rocket ships flown by Flash Gordon in 1930s’ movie serials or portrayed on pulp SF magazine covers from that era and well into the ‘50s. Indeed, the passenger ship of the Interplanetary Transport System, as it’s now inelegantly called, reminds me of the rocket in the movie “When Worlds Collide.” That rocket had much the same purpose as the design proposed by Musk, to deliver a large group of people from Earth to hurriedly colonize another world.
It’s unlikely that Musk will stick with the acronym ITS for this interplanetary fleet. He already described ships making their way to Mars as a “colonial fleet,” admitting it was a reference to the TV series Battle Star Galactica. With his dream propelled as it is by his own internal “improbability drive,” Musk thinks he’ll name the first ship of Space X’s colonial fleet the Heart of Gold, after the ship of that name in Douglas Adams’ BBC radio serial and subsequent movie, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
Perhaps the most influence science fiction has had on Musk is the big dream itself. It is not enough to set foot on Mars. SpaceX is attempting to build an interplanetary culture, and he’s in a hurry. He sees the first landing of a crewed spaceship on Mars happening in the 2020s with the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, and “if everything goes really well,” he sees the first flight of the Heart of Gold within 10 years, as improbable as it may seem.
But What of Reality?
On Tuesday, Musk laid out a plan, a concept, a dream. At present, however, his vision is as much fiction as the stories that have inspired him. If SpaceX embarks on Musk’s plan, and if other private or public/private ventures join his company in his quest to reach and settle the Red Planet, NASA’s path to land astronauts there by sometime in the mid 2030s will be left in the dust. On the other hand, dust burying the remnants of Musk’s efforts may be all the NASA explorers find.