SpaceX…The Final Frontier…Well, Not Quite…

Let me begin this posting, but confessing something. I love space. From an early age I’ve been fascinated with the space race. I always love watching clips of the Mercury 7 and the Apollo missions. Documentaries about the Voyager, Juno, Cassini probes, and the Mars rover missions are some of my favorites. I am a huge space nerd. Also, Star Trek over Star Wars always.

So this weekend was super exciting to watch the Space X launch of their Dragon spaceship, sending Bob and Doug (not the Canadians) to the International Space Station. In light of the problems we are facing here on planet earth, between the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests we are watching happening in real time in America, it was an uplifting moment. I reckon that this must have been similar to the zeitgeist of the 1960’s. The launch was a reminder that our true destiny is amongst the stars, if we can come together here on Earth first.

Credit must be given to Elon Musk for rekindling a dead space race. His Falcon rocket’s reusable technology will enable humanity to return to the stars in a cost effective manner. Hopefully also to encourage the sort of innovation and advancement that we associate with the space race. However, I am also reminded of Musk’s eccentricities. Notably, his goal of landing humans on Mars to colonize the red planet. It’s an excellent branding exercise. Cast yourself in the story of the pioneer who is going to colonize the solar system. Maybe in the long run you might be able to name a city or even a continent after yourself on Mars.

The reality though is that it’s mostly fantasy. Taking lessons from Europe’s colonization of the world cannot be applied to the solar system. For one major reason. The solar system will actively try to kill us when we leave. Unlike the first europeans to land in the new world, Mars first colonists won’t have resources to draw upon to build habitats or sustain itself. It is the definition of barren. The first settlers to Mars will be completely dependent on Earth to provide everything from food to raw materials to construct habitats and entire environments to live in. The obstacles to colonization are immense and right now appear to be insurmountable. It is more fiction that fantasy to believe Elon Musk is going to build human colonies on Mars.

The reality is that to colonize an entire planet will take this entire planet to accomplish. The idea that one nation or company will be able to do this is fanciful and reeking of hubris. The obstacles are too great and the timelines for success too long to be sustainable for any one man or woman to achieve. Costs are too high and technologies have yet to be developed to make this a reasonable goal.

What surprises me is that no one mentions the clear problem of bankruptcy. No one can say what the future might hold for SpaceX. What if one day the company does go bankrupt, due to poor management or a competitor puts it out of business with better technology. It has happened before, its most likely going to happen again. In Elon Musks fantasy of millions of humans on Mars, what happens to them when the only contracted lifeline to Earth is cut off?

SpaceX has accomplished a great technological achievement this weekend. They should be commended for it. They should also be recognized for the true industry that they are in. Vehicle manufacturing, not colonization. The future of SpaceX is in contracting to private telecom companies and nation states for space travel. That’s it. I believe they’ll make a fortune in that endeavor. But that’s it. That’s their limitations. Humanity’s destiny is indeed to traverse the stars. I don’t believe there is a horizon we can’t cross when we come together and tackle the problem. It’s simply a matter of imagination and willpower. But it will be all of humanity’s collective will and power to achieve this vision, not Elon Musk’s ego.

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