Noted theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku says that Elon Musk’s plans for Martian settlement are feasible with the help of robots. Kaku says that Musk’s plans might make a good jumping-off point for fulfilling the legendary Carl Sagan’s dream of colonizing an entire solar system if they succeed.
Elon Musk has sketched out plans for Martian settlements that could support up to one million people.
Before his death in 1996, Carl Sagan expressed concern that humanity is still a single-planet species. He saw this as an overly risky arrangement, considering that Earth has been through five mass extinction events in its history and some experts say that it is going through a sixth even now.
Sagan said of the problem, “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. …The probability of dying on a random commercial airline flight is one-in-two million.”
Elon Musk echoed the sentiment in 2019, saying that “a big rock will hit Earth eventually.”
The most common theory says that a giant meteor caused or contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Scientists routinely detect near-Earth asteroids that cross Earth’s orbit around the sun on a regular basis and could cause significant damage if they hit Earth.
Kaku Touts Technological Progress Made for Martian Settlements
Dr. Kaku told Big Think in a video interview:
“As an insurance policy, we have to make sure that humans become a two-planet species. These are the words of Carl Sagan. And now, of course, Elon Musk has revived this vision by talking about a multi-planet species…He wants to put up to a million colonists in Mars sent to Mars by his rockets financed by a combination of public and private funding, including fusion rockets, ramjet fusion rockets, including anti-matter rockets.”
Echoing many supporters of sending humans to Mars, Kaku supports the use of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technology using raw materials and elements that are readily accessible, both in the Martian regolity and in the planetary atmosphere. He also says that self-replicating robots can help with the initial setup before humans go to Mars.
“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,” he said.
These cities could be in place before humans actually arrive. The European Space Agency did fund a study on 3D printing a lunar base in 2013 and the below video shows some of the results. Similar use of 3D printing on Mars could accelerate the development of bases and eventual long-term settlements.
“Mars Is Hard”
Those working on robotic exploration missions for Mars have famously said, “Mars is hard.” Several probes have been lost over the years due to programming errors, incorrect commands, or the harsh Martian environment. On the plus side, they have confirmed that settlements on Mars might be possible, if difficult in the environment of Mars, which is frigid and often engulfed in planet-wide dust storms that eliminate solar panels a viable long-term power source.
Settlements on Mars are likely to be a costly and risky venture. One previous attempt to establish a “beachhead” base, Mars One, appears to have run out of money. Elon Musk famously acknowledged the risk of failure: “I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”
Citing the cost and the risk, some critics have asked why the money couldn’t be used to solve social problems on Earth. Supporters of Musk’s efforts have answered the critics by saying that satellites that have already been launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets can assist with developing a better understanding of climate change, assist disaster relief efforts, and increase opportunities for more people by closing the “digital divide.” The Native American Hoh Tribe, for instance, gained early access to SpaceX’s Starlink and plans to use it to access virtual learning opportunities and telehealth services. SpaceX has also launched the ocean observation satellite Sentinel-6 for the European Space Agency’s Copernicus project.
Musk himself said of the criticism in an appearance at the 2020 Mars Society conference, “This is really about eliminating existential risk for civilization as a whole. … Being confined to Earth until some eventual extinction event is depressing. We need things that make you want to get out of bed in the morning.”
Dr. Michio Kaku seemed to echo the sentiment. Mars might be “hard”, expensive, and risky, but it might be worth it in the long run. Carl Sagan has also famously recorded the below audio message, which resides at the Martian landing site of the 2008 Pheonix lander. Perhaps it will be found by a future crew of astronauts who will lay the groundwork for eventual settlement.