Imagine watching Earth rise from your home at Mars Base Alpha, a place bustling with mining robots, research pods, and cargo landers. Together they are building the next human neighborhood 140 million miles from the original home planet — on a new home planet.
Years earlier, robots scoured Mars for ice deposits and usable regolith to produce oxygen, water, and building materials. Solar panels, ferried on cargo flights from Earth, generated power to fuel automated construction.
Perhaps in this century, humans will become a multi-planet species. We’ll begin on the Moon and Mars, our closest planetary kin, before exploring outposts in our solar system. We’ll take this monumental leap because we can — and should. Earth won’t be here forever.
As disaster management expert Vinay Gupta said, “Making life interplanetary, and then interstellar, enables creation to generate untold wonders over potentially trillions of years.”
Why Humans Should Become a Multiplanetary Species
Earth might be in its endgame. Nick Bostrom, director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, has detailed the numerous “existential risks” our planet confronts: nuclear holocaust, genetically engineered mistakes, destructive nanobots, and even the gradual loss of human fertility. Meanwhile, MIT research suggests the planet’s oceans could contain enough carbon by 2100 to begin a “mass extinction event.”
The effects of such events might last 10,000 years or longer, but it would be smart to start and prepare now. One way or another, Earth has an end date, meaning some of us should consider moving. SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes that a Martian colony requires one million people to be sustainable. Musk said we could scale up that population within a century.
The prospect of establishing a human presence on another planet might seem implausible since humans haven’t truly tamed Antarctica. Two Swiss scientists believe we’ll never live on Mars or anywhere else.
So why should we try? “In order to have a bigger future,” said Robert Zubrin, founder and president of the Mars Society. “In order to have an open future. In order to open the possibility to create new branches of human civilization that will add their creative talents to the human story.”
Besides, we’re already on our way.
NASA’s 50 Objectives for Becoming a Multiplanetary Species
NASA’s Artemis program plans an incremental, decades-long strategy for visiting the Moon and Mars. The program will rely on commercial- and government-funded projects to land and sustain humans on both surfaces.
* Develop a transportation system that the crew can routinely operate from the Earth-moon vicinity to Mars’s orbit and Martian surface.
* Develop systems for the crew to live, operate, and explore on the Martian surface to address critical questions concerning science and resources.
* Develop integrated human and robotic systems with inter-relationships that enable maximum science return from Mars’s surface and orbit.
* Create and advance autonomous construction, precision landing, surface transportation, industrial scale ISRU and advanced manufacturing capabilities to support a future and continuous human lunar presence and robust lunar economy.
* Demonstrate the ability to use commodities produced from planetary surfaces or in-space resources, reducing the mass required to be transported from Earth.
We’re rapidly developing technology to achieve these goals while making them safe and cost-effective at scale. Musk ranks cost as a pivotal factor in sending people to Mars.
Elon Musk’s Mission to Make Mars Travel Affordable
In 2017, Musk estimated the cost of a Mars trip using traditional space agency tactics would cost $10 billion per person. Any discussion of a Mars Base Alpha ends there. But if that cost were equivalent to the median price of a U.S. home ( about $440,000 in Q2 2022), then people would be interested, Musk theorized.
Lowering the travel cost requires four key elements:
* Reusable rockets
* The ability to refuel in orbit
* Producing propellant on Mars
* Choosing the most efficient propellant
SpaceX and other commercial enterprises are developing technology to achieve those goals. In February, Musk said that SpaceX’s Starship is closer to becoming a fully reusable transportation system that could carry one million tons of cargo to Earth orbit annually (assuming three launches per day). Musk cites one million tons as the cargo threshold necessary to operate a self-sustaining city on Mars.
Researchers are modeling the development of in-situ propellants from local Martian materials and high-speed propulsion systems to develop fuel-efficient, cost-effective transport. Once there, how will humans live on Mars? Living (biotech) tech might hold the answer.
Supporting Multi-planetary Life With Living Tech
Lynn Rothschild, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, is an expert in astrobiology. She believes humans on Mars will generate electricity using bacteria and grow houses from fungi. Rothschild said that growing structures on Mars from fungi instead of shipping construction materials could save 90% of the transport upmass problem. The key is synthetic biology.
Rothschild calls this “living tech,” which starts with the power of the cell. Microscopic organisms will produce silk, wool, latex, silica, and other materials. We’ll send digital information to biofactories on Mars through DNA sequences. We’ll generate and store power using living organisms. Rothschild said one of her students incorporated silver atoms into plant DNA to make an electrical wire.
“Once you think of life as technology,” Rothschild said, “you’ve got the solution.”
Humans have many practical reasons to become multi-planetary. But the mission shouldn’t represent merely a life insurance policy for the species. We’re still explorers and visionaries, so let’s harness that ambition for an aspirational purpose.
“Life can’t just be about solving problems,” Musk said. “There have to be things that inspire you, that move your heart. Going out there, being a space-faring civilization, and making science fiction not fiction forever, I think that’s one of those things.”
Originally published at https://www.newsweek.com on July 31, 2023.
About Dylan Taylor
Dylan Taylor is a global business leader, commercial astronaut, thought leader and philanthropist. Currently, Dylan serves as Chairman & CEO of Voyager Space, a multi-national space exploration firm focused on building the next generation of space infrastructure for NASA and other global space agencies.
Dylan has been recognized by Harvard University, SpaceNews, the BBC, the Financial Times, Pitchbook,CNBC, CNN and others as having played a seminal role in the growth of the private space industry. As an early-stage investor in more than 50 emerging space ventures, including Axiom, Kepler, York, Astrobotic, LeoLabs, Relativity, and Planet, Dylan is widely considered the most active private space investor in the world.
Dylan’s technical background, global business experience and unbridled passion for space make him a unique figure within his industry. As a thought leader and futurist, he has written many popular pieces on the future of the space industry for Forbes, FastCompany, Newsweek, SpaceNews, The Space Review, and Space.com. As a speaker, Dylan has keynoted many of the major space conferences around the world and has appeared regularly on Bloomberg, Fox Business, and CNBC.
Dylan has extensive global business experience as both a board director and CEO in several industries, including advanced electronics, finance and real estate. He previously served as a Director for UMB Bank, a Fortune 500 company based in Kansas City and as a mutual fund director for the Jackson Funds where he oversaw assets of $8B across 130 distinct funds. He has also served in the roles of CEO, President and Board Director for multinational companies like Prudential PLC, Honeywell, Colliers and Jones Lang LaSalle. Dylan was recognized as a Fortune 1000 CEO with P&L responsibility in excess of $3B and operations encompassing 15,000 employees in over 60 countries. In addition, Dylan has participated in 4 IPOs over the course of his career.
Dylan is a leading advocate of space manufacturing and the utilization of in-space resources to further space exploration and settlement. In 2017, he became the first private citizen to manufacture an item in space when the gravity meter he co-designed and commissioned was 3D printed on the International Space Station. The historic item is now housed in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Dylan is an explorer of note. On December 11th, 2021 Dylan became just the 606th human to go to space as part of the crew of Blue Origin’s NewShepard Mission 19. Accordingly, Dylan earned his commercial astronaut wings with the FAA and his universal astronaut wings from the Association of Space Explorers.
He is also one of only a handful of humans to have descended to the deepest part of the world’s oceans, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench as part of the Limiting Factor Expedition in July of 2022. In that mission, Dylan descended with pilot Victor Vescovo to a depth in excess of 10,800 meters (35,500 feet) into an area of the Mariana Trench that had never been visited by humans. Dylan is the youngest human to have been to the deepest part of the world’s oceans and crossed the Karman line into Space. Dylan has been a member of the Explorers Club since 2014.
Dylan maintains an extensive philanthropic impact on the space industry. In 2017, Dylan founded the nonprofit and social movement, Space for Humanity, which seeks to democratize space exploration and develop solutions to global issues through the scope of human awareness to help solve the world’s most intractable problems. Space for Humanity has successfully sent two citizen astronauts to space via Blue Origin including both the first Mexican-born woman (Katya Echazareta), and first African-born woman (Sara Sabry). Building upon his passion and support for the space industry, Dylan serves as a strategic advisor for both the Archmission and the Human Spaceflight Program and is a co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which promotes the growth of commercial space activity. Additionally, he is also a leading benefactor to the Brooke Owens Fellowship, Patti Grace Smith Fellowship and Mission: Astro Access.
Dylan is the founder and Chairman of Multiverse Media, an integrated global media company focused on science and technology, with an emphasis on space. Multiverse is the parent company of the popular space philosophy website 2211.world as well as the Ad Astra Dinners, a Jeffersonian-style dinner series featuring some of the world’s leading influencers discussing the future of humanity in space. Another subsidiary of Multiverse Media, Multiverse Publishing, publishes books by leading authors including Frank White, Isaac Asimov and Gerard K. O’Neill. Multiverse is also the executive producer of the documentary film, The High Frontier and the forthcoming film, Fortitude.
For his influence as a global leader and his commitment to creating a positive impact on the world, Dylan has been honored with numerous personal and professional accolades in recent years. The World Economic Forum recognized Dylan as a Young Global Leader in 2011 and a full member of the World Economic Forum in 2014. That same year he was named a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. In 2020, Dylan was recognized by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation with their top honor for business and finance, following in the footsteps of 2019’s inaugural winner, the late Paul Allen
and subsequent winners Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
Dylan Taylor earned an MBA in Finance and Strategy from the Booth School of Business at University of Chicago and holds a BS in Engineering from the honors college at the University of Arizona, where he graduated Tau Beta Pi and in 2018 was named Alumnus of the year. He is also a graduate of the Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century program at Harvard University.
Dylan and his family reside in Denver, Colorado where he is active locally with Colorado Concern and theColorado Spaceport. In his spare time, Dylan enjoys hiking, competing in triathlons and spending time outdoors. As a weekend warrior athlete, Dylan has more than 25 top ten finishes and 25 age group wins to his credit, and he regularly interviews world class athletes whom have shown extraordinary resilience as the host of the Legendary Podcast. He is married to legal expert, consultant and author Gabrielle V. Taylor with whom he has two teenage daughters.