Mars will be ‘dangerous’, ‘difficult and ‘cramped’

Elon Musk

The billionaire wanted to remember that the idyll he has with the Red Planet will not always be a cakewalk.

Recently, Elon Musk spoke in a long video interview with Chris Anderson, the big boss of TED talks. The billionaire has reviewed many, many topics; he notably addressed the subject of the android robots on which Tesla is working, which already seem to have a bright future (see our article). But he also returned to one of his oldest fads, namely the conquest of Mars (from 37 minutes in the video below).

By dint of hearing him talk about it with such enthusiasm, one could almost believe that our arrival on the Red Planet will take on the air of an extraterrestrial summer camp. This is obviously very far from being the case; and Musk apparently felt it was important to remember the extreme constraints that await future settlers there.

“You might never come back”

To begin, Musk begins by illustrating the profile of these adventurers. And it does not beat around the bush: the small natures are asked to leave their place to those who are not afraid to live harshly and provide elbow grease to the hectolitre.

It is very important to emphasize that Mars, especially in the beginning, will not be a luxury destination”, explains Musk. “Lhe pitch before going to Mars is: “it’s dangerous, very difficult and very cramped. You might never come back”, he enumerates bluntly.

And while we know his love for flashy protrusions, for once it’s a statement that couldn’t be more factual. Even in the context of a simple mission, to say that the Martian environment is inhospitable is a gigantic understatement; and knowing that Musk is squarely considering setting up a full-blown, city-sized permanent settlement there, the engineers definitely have their work cut out for them.

An extremely inhospitable environment

Indeed, they will have to deal with an average temperature of about -60°C, the very sparse atmosphere, the absence of breathable air… it’s no secret, but no human will be able to survive there without a very important infrastructure.

And even once all the technological aspect has been mastered, it will still be necessary to deal with the vagaries of Martian geology. Because its surface has nothing to do with that of the Earth; it is strewn with craters, canyons, pockets of sand and gigantic volcanoes which will constitute so many logistical obstacles to the installation of humans.

The Starship SN15 prototype taking off. © SpaceX

A daunting logistical adventure to save humanity

In addition, transporting all this material will be anything but a cakewalk. The transport itself already promises to be perilous and complicated to organise; Musk said in 2019 that it would take at least 1,000 trips to establish a first Martian city. He also estimated that the project would cost between 100 and 10,000 billion dollars.

There still remains the question that annoys, and which continues to divide the general public as much as the specialists: why the hell would we settle in such an inhospitable environment to which the human species is clearly not adapted? For Musk, the answer is always the same: it is not about abstract fundamental research, but above all to ensure the survival of our species.

I think it’s important to maximize the life expectancy of humanity”, he explains, referring to a possibility of “rethink society”. “Human civilization could end for external reasons, like a giant meteorite, climate change, World War III, or, you know, a bunch of other reasons.”, he lets go laconically.

As things stand, however, this project remains very abstract. Before attacking the first concrete preparations, SpaceX will already have to finish its famous Starship. This machine, which is destined to become the spearhead of Martian colonization, has fallen considerably behind schedule, as is almost always the case in this industry. So we give you an appointment when it goes live, because there is no doubt that Musk will actively seek to get his big project on track once that deadline is reached.