Elon Musk captured the imaginations of science/space enthusiasts the world over during his speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, when he unveiled his plans to shuttle 1 million people to Mars over the next 50 to 100 years via the Interplanetary Transport System.
However, he had a question for prospective participants who assumed these efforts would be all sunshine and rainbows: “Are you prepared to die?”
The explanation of his plans was simple and almost romantic in a way: In the not-too-distant future, at least 1,000 ITS spaceships would simultaneously launch from Earth’s orbit and ferry space explorers in groups of 100-200 toward Mars.
However, the reality isn’t quite as romantic. Musk was quick to reveal that the colonization of Mars would be a difficult task, and wouldn’t be one that’s suited for those unprepared to die in the process.
“I think the first journeys to Mars are going to be really very dangerous. The risk of fatality will be high; there’s just no way around it,” Musk said at the IAC, adding that children wouldn’t be ideal for these flights.
“It would be, basically, ‘Are you prepared to die?’ If that’s OK, then, you know, you’re a candidate for going,” he added.
Just to reinforce just how dangerous this task would be (or perhaps reinforce his belief that this would be achievable in his lifetime), Musk said during a teleconference following the initial speech that he wouldn’t likely be among the first to go to Mars.
“I would definitely need to have a very good succession plan, because the probability of death is quite high on the first mission, and I’d like to see my kids grow up and everything – so, some pros and cons there,” he said.
Despite those risks, he still emphasized just how important colonizing Mars is. As he noted in the past, a major part of the reason why he founded SpaceX in 2002 was to get humans on Mars – a move he deems necessary if humans are to survive as a species if something catastrophic were to happen on Earth.
Of course, this journey to Mars isn’t something that’s expected to be happening anytime soon, so don’t expect to hear about people potentially flying off to their deaths just yet. As Musk also noted during the announcement, going to Mars is secondary (or even tertiary) to SpaceX’s ongoing investigation into what caused the Falcon 9 explosion on Sept. 1.