The latest successful rocket test by SpaceX could mean we’ll see humans on Mars in the next decade, funded by private entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. But will they take charge of the newly conquered Red Planet too?
On a clear night, there’s nothing better than gazing towards the heavens, wondering what’s out there, but if the answer to that eternal question ever turned out to be Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and their billionaire pals sitting on Mars and gazing back at Earth, then, Houston, we have a problem.
It’s not a completely unlikely scenario in the exciting new climate of space exploration, marked this week by the safe return from the International Space Station of two NASA astronauts aboard a SpaceX craft, and the successful testing of Musk’s latest prototype for his next Mars rocket just yesterday.
These events show us a future in which individuals have taken over the funding of our exploration of space, in an arena in which competing national governments once strived to outdo each other to provide the only possible sources of the huge funds needed to finance those dreams.
But before we get too excited and start planning vacations to the Red Planet, let’s look at who’ll be calling the shots now. Do we really want car-maker Musk, Bezos the bookseller, or Branson the balloon man holding all the cards when it comes to the logistics of actually sending people to Mars and making something habitable of the dusty red rock? Living in a Martian society with these guys or their cronies at the helm would be unbearable.
What’s strange to me is that they never seem to profess any huge interest in anthropology, astrophysics, or astronomy. What they like is talking about their crazy dreams of building big rockets, sending up satellites, and getting further than the last guy. It’s an interest that seems based on a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, in which they’re the emperors of their new kingdoms. They indulge in the same kind of fancies as those guys who attend comic conventions and marvel at Star Wars collectible figurines while chatting in fluent Vulcan.
I’d rather step outside my pressurized biodome on the Red Planet and have my eyes pop out of my head and all my internal organs blister from the radiation as I fried like a crisp before I chose to serve at the command of this sort of uber-geek.
Although these are the guys, or others like them, who’ll one day make it possible for us to live on Mars, I’m not so sure I’d want to live alongside them, or that they’re that well equipped to run a brave new world in any case.
Musk is notoriously thin-skinned, insulting the poor chap in Thailand who mocked his offer of a rescue submarine for the football team trapped in a cave as a “pedo guy” and challenging Johnny Depp to a cage fight over allegations he had an affair with Depp’s former wife Amber Heard.
Then there was the intergalactically crass exhibition of consumerism as he pointlessly launched a Tesla car into orbit as if even more junk was needed circling above our heads. Is this someone we want to lead us?
As for Bezos, well, watching him squirm, bald, and bug-eyed in front of the US Congressional Committee investigating the amount of power held by the tech giants was not exactly endearing.
And as the current owner of several mega-houses on earth, you could expect that were he to ever relocate to the fourth rock from the Sun, then his crib would most certainly be the largest. And therein lies the problem.
The sort of galactic pioneer looking to head to Mars isn’t interested in building a community in which he inhabits the lower rungs as the wider population grows and thrives. He wants others to do all the hard graft while he builds on his fortune and the rest of the colony serves his every whim.
The founder of the Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration, and former adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, Art Harman, told the International Mars Society Convention in 2019 that all the heavy lifting required – obviously easier in gravity 37 percent of that on Earth – would be undertaken by workers signing contracts. They would specify their rights and obligations within the new colony, presumably determined by the billionaire businessmen who arranged for their passage and are bankrolling the whole project.
Sound familiar? It would certainly suggest we could be looking at an emerging Green Lives Matter movement sometime next century. It seems we’ve arrived at this point of possibility in a bit of a rush.
Quantum advances in technology have been made and now the space business is big business. Nation-states with a satellite to launch, or a few astronauts to send to the International Space Station, call on those with the know-how and hardware to do that, with Musk’s SpaceX, Bezos’s Blue Origin, Branson’s Virgin Galactic and even the joint Lockheed Martin-Boeing outfit United Launch Alliance among the choices.
Elsewhere, the moneybags sheiks of the Middle East are competing in their own Arab space race, with Saudi Arabia sending up satellites and the United Arab Emirates launching its own mission to Mars.
The skies are suddenly becoming very crowded. With thousands of satellites now orbiting above us, rockets launching more regularly than ever before from all points of the globe and tremendous public buy-in to the idea of actually sending humans to planets previously considered out of reach, the dream of one day building a new civilization is in the realm of possibility.
And that’s amazing. To think that, just a little over 50 years ago, we were excited about sending a man to the moon, and here we are on the cusp of landing him on Mars. It’s what happens next that should now occupy our dreams under the star-filled skies.
By: Damian Wilson, a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant, and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.