Image Source: Wired.
Elon Musk, Gen X founder of PayPal and SpaceX, wants to retire on Mars and live as the poster boy for his next big business: colonizing Mars as a profitable venture. From a 2010 Guardian report:
Musk is planning to fund the first round of Mars missions with his personal fortune and spend his old age building the first Mars colony, anticipated population 80,000.The fresh-faced 39-year-old man, in a dark T-shirt and jeans, is talking about travelling to Mars. Not now, but when he's older and ready to swap life on Earth for one on the red planet. "It would be a good place to retire," he says in all seriousness. Normally, this would be the time to make one's excuses and leave the company of a lunatic. Or to smile politely and humour a space nerd's unlikely fantasies. But this man needs to be taken seriously for one compelling reason: he already has his own spaceship.
From the Space Review:
Conspiracy theories have abounded as to why the Americans never went back to the moon. There were two simple reasons. First, they focussed on building an International Space Station with the help of the Space Shuttles, a program which recently ended, but still defined a generation. Second, Musk has explained in another interview that it came from a lack of public will; it came from the simple fact that NASA is publicly funded, and the public had to want to support such an expensive venture as traveling to Mars:Elon Musk was born on June 28, 1971. He’s planning to retire on Mars. He appears to have amassed a good deal of capital. He joined the Forbes 400 in 2012 with an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion. He has a rocket company with a NASA contract and plenty of satellite launch contracts, including eight flights for Iridium on its launch manifest.
There’s a proposed SpaceX Mars mission called “Red Dragon”. Elon Musk can fund a half dozen of these missions, at an estimated price of $400 million, with his current fortune at retail prices. Six times 1,000 kilograms of payload to Mars seems like a very tight mass budget to handle a retirement. Fortunately, the mass budget may rise as prices drop.
SpaceX has demonstrated its Grasshopper vehicle, which has proven SpaceX’s mastery of vertical landing. And there are more hints of reusability, the Holy Grail that can get the cost of a rocket flight down from greater than $100 million to less than $10 million. At $100 per pound, a flight to orbit is competitive with a first-class flight to Australia. But where is there to go?
Even 240 flights to Mars is probably not enough to create a comfortable retirement destination. Not unreasonably, Musk has a plan to make settling Mars a profitable business so there will be a full retirement community for people to reminisce about how hard spaceflight used to be.
Even so, Wired confirms the wealth, power and almost frightening capability of someone who takes and makes dreams a literal reality:Elon Musk: In 2002, once it became clear that PayPal was going to get sold, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, the entrepreneur Adeo Ressi, who was actually my college housemate. I’d been staying at his home for the weekend, and we were coming back on a rainy day, stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway. He was asking me what I would do after PayPal. And I said, well, I’d always been really interested in space, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do as an individual. But, I went on, it seemed clear that we would send people to Mars. Suddenly I began to wonder why it hadn’t happened already. Later I went to the NASA website so I could see the schedule of when we’re supposed to go. [Laughs.]
Anderson: And of course there was nothing.
Musk: At first I thought, jeez, maybe I’m just looking in the wrong place! Why was there no plan, no schedule? There was nothing. It seemed crazy.
Anderson: NASA doesn’t have the budget for that anymore.
Musk: Since 1989, when a study estimated that a manned mission would cost $500 billion, the subject has been toxic. Politicians didn’t want a high-priced federal program like that to be used as a political weapon against them.
Anderson: Their opponents would call it a boondoggle.
Musk: But the United States is a nation of explorers. America is the spirit of human exploration distilled.
Anderson: We all leaped into the unknown to get here.
Musk: So I started with a crazy idea to spur the national will. I called it the Mars Oasis missions. The idea was to send a small greenhouse to the surface of Mars, packed with dehydrated nutrient gel that could be hydrated on landing. You’d wind up with this great photograph of green plants and red background—the first life on Mars, as far as we know, and the farthest that life’s ever traveled. It would be a great money shot, plus you’d get a lot of engineering data about what it takes to maintain a little greenhouse and keep plants alive on Mars. If I could afford it, I figured it would be a worthy expenditure of money, with no expectation of financial return.
When a man tells you about the time he planned to put a vegetable garden on Mars, you worry about his mental state. But if that same man has since launched multiple rockets that are actually capable of reaching Mars—sending them into orbit, Bond-style, from a tiny island in the Pacific—you need to find another diagnosis. That’s the thing about extreme entrepreneurialism: There’s a fine line between madness and genius, and you need a little bit of both to really change the world.
All entrepreneurs have an aptitude for risk, but more important than that is their capacity for self-delusion. Indeed, psychological investigations have found that entrepreneurs aren’t more risk-tolerant than non-entrepreneurs. They just have an extraordinary ability to believe in their own visions, so much so that they think what they’re embarking on isn’t really that risky. They’re wrong, of course, but without the ability to be so wrong—to willfully ignore all those naysayers and all that evidence to the contrary—no one would possess the necessary audacity to start something radically new.
I have never met an entrepreneur who fits this model more than Elon Musk. All of the entrepreneurs I admire most—Musk, Jeff Bezos, Reed Hastings, Jack Dorsey, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and a few others—have sought not just to build great companies but to take on problems that really matter. Yet even in this class of universe-denters, Musk stands out.
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