“Eventually I’ll Run Out Of Food.
… So Yeah, I’m Fucked!”
NASA loved it. The Martian starring Matt Damon as a botanist left behind, tending his vegetable garden. What a fabulous PR shot, a close-up that even makes you forget the famed 1990 shot of Earth from The Voyager. Remember, the great astrophysicist, Carl Sagan called Earth The Pale Blue Dot. Forget all the fabulous Hubble Space Telescope shots of black holes, supernovas, distant galaxies exploding.
Yes, there was a human actual farming veggies on Mars! NASA, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, they all love it! And all of us watching through 3-D glasses made it a box office hit. Yes folks, today virtual reality beats real reality! And must have jacked up the pre-booking price of a one-way trip to Mars that includes an extraordinary opportunity to buy and own a new condo out there on Isaac Asimov’s Red Planet, 34 million miles from Earth, and a lifelong obsession of space-dreamers such as teenager Musk who’s been obsessed about saving the world since reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, about aliens destroying Planet-Earth.
Same Problem On Mars … Also Back Here On Earth!
After Matt Damon’s success, more good news from NASA, another boost from the great Cosmic PR Machine: Suddenly, magically, just coincidentally, of course, NASA announced it found signs of flowing water on Mars, salty yet real. Time magazine was ecstatic: “Flowing water means new hope in the search for life.” Yes, hope for new signs of life. And with that, as if by magic, Wall Street, Washington, Madison Avenue and Hollywood all seemed on board racing with this fab-u-lous Mars PR-Hype Machine.
Yes, The Martian film was certain to convince Congress to cough up a few billion of federal tax dollars to bankroll and launch the next “Matt Damon” NASA crew of seven into space, headed for Mars. But next? How about the plans of America’s most notable, ambitious and innovative interstellar dreamers, Elon Musk, the genius behind Tesla automobiles, and Amazon’s brilliant creator Jeff Bezos?
$60 Trillion: Cost to “Save” 10 Billion Left Behind
For years Musk, Bezos and others have been chasing this dream, planning of launching and migrating millions of earthlings into space. But unfortunately, the Musk/Bezos super-ambitious plans for a yet to-be-built Mars Colonial Transporter to take a hundred or so “explorers” at a time may be DOA for three big reasons: Yes three, check the math, logic, economics, bad public policy:
1. Higher Priorities Already Here On Planet-Earth Today
Planet Earth’s environment is deteriorating so rapidly scientists estimate it’ll take $60 trillion to reverse the trend, an impossibly steep price tag on a planet where total GDP of all national economies is only $75 trillion. The Guardian news already warns global warming a “ticking time bomb” that will “undermine the global financial system.” Stephen Hawking predicts a catastrophic ending. And a University of Hawaii study and others warn that the planet is on a short fuse. Our planet’s atmosphere is overheating so rapidly that temperatures will pass a worldwide irreversible point-of-no-return by 2047, while in a parallel economic trend, America’s GDP collapses below one percent by 2100.
2. Too Little, Too Late For Billions Left Behind on A Dying Earth
Even if Musk’s SpaceX Mars Colonial Transporters were leaving every month carrying a payload bigger than new Saturn rockets, ferrying 100 people to Mars each trip, they can’t realistically get many humans off our planet fast and cheap enough, maybe few decades to exit a few million? By comparison, Earth’s population is increasing at an astronomical rate exceeding 100,000 humans every single day, tens of millions annually, with Planet Earth’s population now at 7.3 billion and growing steadily to peak above 10 billion by 2050.
3. Bad Public Policy, New Tax Perk for the Very Rich
A few years ago Musk told Wired magazine ago the price of booking a flight on SpaceX Mars Colonial Transporter would be $500,000, lots more than a Tesla. In short, the wealthy are their primary target for marketing this trip, likely get a tax write-off. They’re also a bit crazy to want to relocate in an environment that’s minus 60 degrees and unbreathable outside. The Guardian newspaper even ran a column on “The psychology of isolation, confinement and 24-hour Big Brother,” a warning “those sent to live and die on the red planet face untold risk of mental illness” while confined to a small inner space of roughly 500 square feet forever.
The movie opens with NASA team storm-threatened, forced into an emergency return launch leaving Damon on Mars, presumed dead. But Musk’s SpaceX Transporters and Bezos’ Blue Origin Team will never even get there while fighting those three mega-trends. But that certainly won’t end this latest Don Quixote version on the “Impossible Dream.” Why? Americans are born dreamers, all searching for a better future.
So expect the “Mars-or-Bust” sales-marketing blitz to accelerate, shifting into hyper-drive for years to come. Photo-ops of Matt and Jessica. Water. Potatoes. Who could wish for more! In fact, NASA, SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin, must all be in pre-launch mode, churning out more and more press materials hyping the benefits of space travel to the new Mars, a photo-shop update of Asimov’s dark dreary Red Planet.
Still, they may recapture the thrill of 19th century adventurers boarding a wagon-train to the Wild West. The market’s hot. A rival Dutch group, Mars One, says 80,000 have applied. Imagine sales brochures: “Welcome to the greatest adventure of a lifetime. Escape to the New Mars Colony. Travel aboard the luxury Mars Colony’s newest Transporters for a couple years, as an explorer, then retire at the universe’s hot new destination, the Famous Red Planet.” Luxury? Retire? Chutzpah!
National Geographic is a bit more realistic. In Mars: Inside the High-Risk, High-Stakes Race to the Red Planet, they warn us: “How well Mars explorers would perform on arrival is uncertain … Hazards of the trip include bone loss and brain damage … If the trip doesn’t kill you, living there might.”
Is One-Way Trip to Mars Really Worth $500,000?
For Musk, Bezos and others, this is childhood dream fulfilled … and whether there really are millions of humans ready to pony up $500,000 each to make a one-way Mars trip … whether Musk can build and deliver new super-transporters hauling a hundred humans and supplies each trip … and whether Musk can design innovative new rocket ships more powerful than the earlier low-orbit Saturns with their 260,000-pound payload built special for use by NASA with assists from giants like Boeing, IBM, Douglas and North American Aviation … well, all that remains to be seen but they will never give up the dream, no matter the cost. And is the Mars job market any better than here?
Bottom line: Does the American public and our politicians really have the political will, the vision, the money, the good ol’ American spirit driving us to transport just a few million Americans out of 325 million total, cramped in a spacebus for a year across 34 million miles to an isolated future on a desolate, long-dead planet, in conditions worse than our own dying planet? Can we revive the good ol’ American Dream for this new push to Mars? Like 19th century America expanding westward … except that wagon train sailed long ago.
Why Relocate From Dying Planet … to Dead One?
As Dan Ariely writes in Predictably Irrational, his behavioral economics classic, here’s what American capitalism has really been about since initial launch back in 1776: “Adam Smith’s version of invisible hand does not exist.” Never did. Ariely makes clear the real “Invisible Hand” is not Wall Street’s clever manipulations … not the selfishness and collective greed of millions of individual capitalists acting selfishly and separately … not even God’s “Invisible Hand” with human affairs.
After the Mars Colony Transporters take off, Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” will still be right here on Planet-Earth, manipulating the “predictably irrational” self-sabotaging behavior of more than ten billion humans left stranded behind, all struggling to survive on a rapidly and irreversibly over-heating planet that’s heading for the same dark fate as Mars, or hellish fate of Venus, predicted by Hawking. Now that is irrational!
When I first saw Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind I really identified with Dreyfus, so much so I actually cheered loudly when he turned and smiled just before boarding the UFO to leave Planet-Earth with the aliens. But this time, we’ll all likely just be waving a cheery goodbye on our cell phones, waving to all those brave adventurers who think they’re escaping to the “New Land of Freedom” on the SpaceX Mars Colonial Transporter … unaware that those of us who chose to remain behind, back here on Planet-Earth, well, we are already free!