Scientists take to Twitter to ground Elon Musk’s Mars settlement vision

Elon Musk

SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Astrobiologist Caleb Scharf has made international headlines for criticising Elon Musk’s “Battlestar Galactica”-like plans to settle shiploads of people on Mars in the next three decades.

To set the scene, the SpaceX founder took to Twitter last week to reveal he is “accumulating assets on Earth” to allow “life to become multiplanetary” in the next few decades.

In his tweets, Musk said sending one million people to Mars by 2050 would be possible provided we begin the production of 1,000 spacecrafts in the next 10 years. He plans to launch three of these “Starships” every day.

Musk went on to describe his vision of a Mars settlement, including how the high supply of Mars-based jobs would also allow passengers to pay off the “loans available for those who don’t have money”.

Scharf responded to what he described as Musk’s “provocative fashion” in an article for Scientific American, pointing out the “martian radiation environment” would endanger the lives of would-be human explorers.

“To put all of this another way: in the worst-case scenario (which may or may not be a realistic extrapolation) there’s a chance you’d end up dead or stupid on Mars. Or both,” Scharf wrote.

“Obviously no one, not even an emboldened SpaceX, is going to plop humans down on Mars en masse without worrying about all of this.”

Canadian astrophysicist Katie Mack supported Scharf’s concerns, adding the lack of planetary magnetic fields would require humans to seek out deep, inhospitable caves for shelter.

“There is virtually nothing we — or the Universe — could do to Earth that would make it less habitable than Mars. Global warming, nuclear winter, extinction-level asteroid… still easier to live in caves here than there,” Mack said.

The exchange follows SpaceX’s successful test of its Crew Dragon capsule’s emergency escape systems for NASA, during which it intentionally destroyed one of its Falcon 9 rockets.

“As far as we can tell, it was a picture-perfect mission,” Musk said in a press conference following the test.

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