Elon Musk discussed the possibility of life on Mars during a Q&A at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Image: REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Elon Musk said being one of the first people to colonize Mars won't be glamorous.
Speaking during a Q&A at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, the SpaceX founder addressed his plans to colonize Mars and what it will be like for those early pioneers on the red frontier.
According to Musk, there's a misconception that a base on Mars will serve as "an escape hatch for rich people."
"It wasn't that at all," Musk said of his colonization vision. "For the people who go to Mars, it'll be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like Shackleton's ad for Antarctic explorers. 'Difficult, dangerous, good chance you'll die. Excitement for those who survive.' That kind of thing."
"There's already people who want to go in the beginning. There will be some for whom the excitement of exploration and the next frontier exceeds the danger," Musk continued.
Speaking to a packed theater in Austin, Texas, Musk said he expects SpaceX to begin making short trips back and forth to Mars in the first half of 2019. His long-term plan is to put 1 million people on the planet as a sort of Plan B society in case nuclear war wipes out the human race.
In the event of nuclear devastation, Musk said, "we want to make sure there's enough of a seed of civilization somewhere else to bring civilization back and perhaps shorten the length of the dark ages. I think that's why it's important to get a self-sustaining base, ideally on Mars, because it's more likely to survive than a moon base."
In order to "regenerate life back here on Earth," Musk said he prefers to get the back-up civilization on Mars operational before an event like World War III begins on Earth.
"I think it's unlikely that we will never have another world war," Musk said.
Musk's plan to build giant reusable spaceships for colonizing the red planet is an ambitious one. He and SpaceX have yet to detail exactly how hypothetical Mars colonists will survive for months or years on end. Many people still have practical questions for the tech billionaire.
Musk has ideas for how Mars might be governed
Musk instead offered some predictions for what he thinks governance on Mars might look like.
The SpaceX founder suggested his title might be "emperor," adding that it was only a joke.
"Not everyone gets irony," he said.
Musk said he imagines Mars will have a direct democracy instead of the system of government used in the US — a representative democracy — whereby elected officials represent a group of people. On Mars, Musk expects people will vote directly on issues.
He said that the centuries-old representative democracy made more sense during the nation's founding, before the government could assume most people knew how to read and write.
Musk urged future colonizers to "keep laws short," so that people can easily read and digest the bills before voting on them. He warned that long laws have "something suspicious" going on.
"If the law exceeds the word count of 'Lord of the Rings,' then something's wrong," Musk said.
The quote got a laugh from the audience and sparked speculation that Musk was taking a jab at the Republican tax bill that was passed in December 2017. The bill came in at 503 pages and ran over 1,000 pages including the related conference committee report.
Musk also recommended that laws be easier to repeal than install. Doing so would prevent arbitrary rules from accumulating and restricting freedoms over time, he said.
On creating culture on Mars, Musk said that "Mars should have really great bars."
"The Mars Bar," he laughed.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.