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Elon Musk's beguiling Mars vision

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30 September 2016 14:00

Earlier this week tech entrepreneur Elon Musk announced his company SpaceX's vision for human colonisation of Mars. Musk has been treated as something of a visionary in recent years for his leadership of the electric car company Tesla, but the company's planned takeover of SolarCity has been badly received, Tesla continually fails to meet its production targets, and SpaceX had a truly spectacular launch failure recently. So it's fair to say some of the shine has gone off Elon Musk this year, and the social media reaction to his Mars announcement was rather sceptical. But here's a balanced take from ArsTechnica:

...the company has proposed building breathtaking space machines orders of magnitude greater than NASA or anyone else has ever constructed. These are truly audacious space-faring vessels, designed to go where no one has gone before. They are almost unbelievable. Understandably, one might dismiss Elon Musk as a crank, a once-promising visionary slowly degenerating into a Howard Hughes-like madness. A million people on cold, dead Mars? Humans haven’t even been to the Moon, which is right next door to Earth, in nearly half a century. However, SpaceX has made some demonstrable technical progress.

And there's this:

Tuesday’s speech marked only the opening salvo in Musk’s evangelism about the colonization of Mars. His search for a deep-pocketed backer now begins in earnest. For him, personally, and his company, this represents a huge gamble. By putting his entire vision out for the world to see, Musk has emboldened his doubters. Opponents will use details to undermine him. Certainly, they will mock his concept of using a booster with 42 engines...Musk's greatest attribute in an era of space timidity and a stagnated launch industry is probably this: he was never afraid to fail. In what may be his most revealing comment of all on Tuesday, he said, “I just kind of felt that if there wasn’t some new entrant into the space arena with a strong ideological motivation, then it didn’t seem like we were on a trajectory to ever be a spacefaring nation, and be out among the stars.”

Musk decided fourteen years ago to see if he could do something about that. On Tuesday, he finally let it all hang out. This audacious plan might be madness, or brilliance—or both.

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