Elon Musk Wants to Colonize Mars in Order to Fend Off Human Extinction

Musk hopes to begin sending settlers to Mars by the year 2040, with a full colony of 1 million slated to arrive by century's end.

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By Geoff Weiss

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While the most brilliant business minds on Earth often possess strange quirks, a glimpse into the intergalactic future as envisioned by Elon Musk paints a rather harrowing -- and thought-provoking -- picture.

"I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary," said the Tesla and SpaceX founder in a new interview with Aeon magazine, where he discusses his hopes for 1 million people to colonize Mars by the end of the century.

Musk is betting on Mars -- where no human has ever travelled -- as a safe haven in the case that a catastrophic event assails the Earth. Though this is a scientific inevitability, such an event isn't predicted for far into the future.

Related: Artificial Intelligence Has Elon Musk Deeply Concerned

In a billion years, for instance, a swelling sun will scorch our food chain, boil our oceans and extinguish life on Earth as we know it. And this is the optimistic version of impending Armageddon, writes Aeon's Ross Anderson -- barring a more sudden end in the form of a cosmic collision or supernova shockwave.

Musk also takes it as an irksome sign that other life forms in the universe have never been identified. "Maybe we're in a lab and there's some advanced alien civilization that's just watching how we develop, out of curiosity, like mold in a petri dish." Or alternately, he suggests, "It could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilizations."

Either way, in order to increase humanity's chances of survival, Musk is taking a decidedly proactive stance in championing interplanetary travel. And he's somewhat hopeful. Though we are still in the infancy of space travel, he says, ""At our current rate of technological growth, humanity is on a path to be godlike in its capabilities."

Related: A Poor, Sleepy Border Town Just Won Billionaire Entrepreneur Elon Musk's Business

Musk's initial plan hinges on a debut mission to Mars currently slated for the mid-2030s, when the planet's orbit will align it optimally with Earth's. He envisions a colony up and running by 2040, comprising a community of settlers who would fund the roughly $500,000 voyage themselves.

"It's not going to be a vacation jaunt. It's going to be saving up all your money and selling all your stuff," he says, "like when people moved to the early American colonies."

All told, transporting 1 million people to Mars by the year 2100 would likely require 100,000 spaceship trips -- including both humans and cargo, Musk says. And in order to accomplish this, he is working on a "reusable rocket" called the Mars Colonial Transporter, according to Aeon, which differs from traditional launch systems that expend upon deployment.

Related: Jeff Bezos' Enigmatic Aerospace Company Scores Knockout Contract

But even still, once we've arrived, the picture of colonial life on Mars looks rather bleak in Anderson's view. With deadly climates (even in a spacesuit), colonists would likely live underground in windowless caves, where homesickness, anarchy, cannibalism or a whole host of other communal breakdowns could soon set in.

That said, Musk said he would only take the voyage to Mars himself provided "I could be confident that my death wouldn't result in the primary mission of the company falling away."

After all, the way he sees it, it's a mission in which the very fate of humanity is hanging delicately in the balance.

Related: Elon Musk: I'm Afraid of a 'Terminator'-Like Catastrophe

Geoff Weiss

Former Staff Writer

Geoff Weiss is a former staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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