Science | September 4, 2020 2:31 pm

Elon Musk on First SpaceX Mars Settlers: “Good Chance You’ll Die”

Would you be a human guinea pig for the chance to go to Mars?

SpaceX Vice President of Propulsion Engineering Will Heltsley, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk
(L-R) SpaceX Vice President of Propulsion Engineering Will Heltsley, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Photo: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Elon Musk has been talking (and tweeting memes) for years about his plans to send humans to Mars through his aerospace company SpaceX. On Monday, during a virtual summit titled “Humans to Mars,” the CEO offered some more details on what the missions could look like, and it doesn’t sound pretty for the astronauts involved. 

“I want to emphasize that this is a very hard and dangerous, difficult thing, not for the faint of heart,” Musk said, according to CNBC. “Good chance you’ll die, it’s going to be tough going, but it will be pretty glorious if it works out.”

No one is surprised that a potential mission to Mars would be risky for humans — Hollywood has delivered enough red planet action movies that we’re already picturing the worst — but laying it out in such stark terms, especially for someone who’s trying to fund the exploration, is jarring. But as Popular Mechanics recently detailed, not only is there a “good chance” of dying on Mars for the first astronauts to reach the planet, it’s mostly a foregone conclusion.

“In fact, the goal is to have people comfortably die on Mars after a long life of work and play that, we hope, looks at least a little like life on Earth,” Popular Mechanics noted. 

Currently, SpaceX is developing Starship, a rocket that Musk envisions as reusable and large enough to carry as many as 100 people at a time. As CNBC reported, “Musk recently shifted the company’s focus to Starship” and he is hoping to launch the first orbital test flights next year. Still, flights with people onboard, not to mention those headed to Mars, are far in the future.

But once we do reach that milestone, SpaceX’s goal is to erect a settlement on Mars, and as Popular Mechanics pointed out, some of the first people to land may be likely to die there one way or another: “ … there’s an almost certain ‘chance’ these settlers will die on Mars, because their lives will continue there until they naturally end. Musk is referring to accidental death in tough conditions, but people are likely to stay on Mars for the duration either way.”

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