Billionaire inventor and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been in the news quite a bit lately. Following the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy carrying Starman in his red Tesla Roadster into space, his company has just announced an ambitious schedule where they will shoot for five launches in a single month. Upping the ante considerably beyond that goal, he recently announced that he expects to be able to send people out to at least orbit the planet Mars by the first half of next year. (Small spoiler alert from Elon: There’s “a good chance you will die.”)
Unfortunately, Musk has an army of naysayers constantly nipping at his heels. These include the sad case of Matthew Walther, a man clearly so incapable of any vision reaching past the end of his nose that he feels compelled to refer to Elon as a “messianic huckster” and a “goofball techbro.” Generating the kind of headlines Musk does will always lead to controversy in modern society, but it seems to me that we’re having too much of a debate (or at least the wrong debate) about Elon Musk.
Musk has had his detractors, and as always there have been those who try to drag politics and the usual swamp battles into this. Some said the Falcon Heavy launch with Starman in his red Tesla Roadster was a waste of money. It was “a stunt.” He was just engaging in self-promotion. Others have been suggesting for some time that he’s got a not-very-secret liberal agenda.
As far as I’m concerned… so what. Maybe the guy comes up with some wild and wooly ideas. Maybe his hyperloop will be a bust. (Or maybe it won’t?) Personally, after the Falcon Heavy launch, I paid more attention to his answer to those detractors which he posted on Twitter this weekend. Please read it carefully and with an open mind.
“Life cannot just be about solving one sad problem after another,” Musk said. “There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity. That is why we did it. We did it for you.”
Say what you will, but for me this is really the bottom line. I felt a chill run down my spine and a thrill I haven’t experienced in far too long when we watched the cowling of Falcon Heavy peel away and I saw Starman riding that red Tesla Roadster heading out toward the stars. And with a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the glove box… with a towel! When we watched those two side boosters land back in Florida almost simultaneously it was like viewing a ballet cut out of a Ray Bradbury novel. And for just one moment I almost believed that we were finally witnessing the future we’d been promised by Isaac Asimov and Sir Arthur Charles Clarke back when I was a kid growing up in the sixties and seventies. When that announcement came out this week about the flights to Mars and the “good chance you will die,” my wife and I were reading them together. And almost simultaneously we said, “we’ll have to get someone to take care of the pets.”
Is Elon Musk a visionary, a madman, or a baffling combination of the two? Is he a conservative or a liberal? It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if Elon Musk spends his next ten million dollars trying to erect a statue of Che Guevara on the National Mall. I just don’t give a hoot. I will be cheerleading his efforts to get us to Mars every step of the way. Because in case you haven’t heard, this planet isn’t going to last forever. It’s eventually going to be burned to a cinder and absorbed by the sun. Long before that the red giant star our sun will turn into will have extinguished all life. And we might be wiped out long before then. We’re eventually going to have to get off of this rock or mankind, for all our wondrous achievements, won’t even be a footnote in the history of the universe. We’ll simply be gone. And if we’re going to expand beyond our boundaries and survive, somebody will have to figure out a way to escape to the stars. To do that we’re going to need people like Elon Musk.
We’ve gone too long without some crazy dreams to believe in, particularly a dream that’s starting to look as if it’s actually within reach. I believe in Elon Musk. And you should too. So open your eyes and your ears (with your speakers or headset on because it needs the sound) and watch this short, 1:52 long video. And dream a little.