Despite appearances, Elon Musk is not the first person to set his eyes on building a settlement on Mars.
Decades ago, the renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan emphasized the need for humans to become a multi-planet species before the "shooting range" of asteroids in our solar system struck Earth again.
Sagan has since passed away, but popular theoretical physicist and futurist Professor Michio Kaku of CUNY says the interplanetary baton is now in the hands of Elon Musk — the outspoken CEO of SpaceX — to revive Sagan's dream of a spacefaring civilization, according to a recent YouTube video interview with Big Think.
Elon Musk's plans to settle Mars 'highly feasible' with self-building robots
Sagan died in 1996, but his vision for humans to expand beyond the Earth has only grown more compelling as increased global threats like climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more reveal the fragile state of single-planet existence.
Earth has experienced at least five major extinction periods — and if this isn't worrying enough, the "probability that the Earth will be hit by a civilization-threatening small world in the next century is a little less than one in a thousand," said Sagan, before his eventual passing. "The probability of dying on a random commercial airline flight is one-in-two million."
Great name! Wouldn’t worry about this particular one, but a big rock will hit Earth eventually & we currently have no defense. https://t.co/XhY8uoNNax— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 18, 2019
Elon Musk warns about Earth's 'big rock' problem
Enter Professor Kaku — who thinks Elon Musk can bring Sagan's dream to fruition in a more realistic and creative way. In the video, Kaku notes how Musk's present-day efforts are more appropriate to the global threats humanity faces now than they were in 1996.
For example, in 2019, Musk tweeted "a big rock will hit Earth eventually," and emphasized the significance that Earth has zero defense mechanisms to save planet-bound humans.
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"As an insurance policy, we have to make sure that humans become a two-planet species," said Kaku, in the Big Think video. "These are the words of Carl Sagan."
"And now, of course, Elon Musk has revived this vision by talking about a multi-planet species," added Kaku in the video. "He wants to put up to a million colonists [on Mars, sent] by his rockets financed by a combination of public and private funding, including fusion rockets, ramjet fusion rockets, including anti-matter rockets."
Self-replicating robots could build human cities on Mars
However, Kaku doesn't ignore the colossal challenges humanity will face on the path to settling Mars. One major obstruction is the giant bill a trip to Mars incurs. Even as the richest man on Earth (which Musk is), a trip to Mars is a serious financial enterprise to pursue.
To soften the financial blow, Kaku thinks the more efficient path lies in sending robots to the Red Planet — where they can build local habitats for future astronauts.
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"With one self-replicating robot, you get two, then four, then eight, 16, 32, 64, until you have an army of these robots that can build cities on Mars," explained Kaku in the Big Think video. "That's why I say given the fact that Mother Nature and the laws of physics have a death warrant for humanity that ultimately our destiny will be in outer space."
Nearly a year into a global pandemic, at the cusp of a major climate catastrophe, it's easy to fall into mild despair — and accept the status quo as a "new normal."
But according to Professor Kaku, Elon Musk's redux of Carl Sagan's push for humanity to become an interplanetary species is more urgent now because it offers hope of a brighter future — if not for everyone, then at least for the species.