Elon Musk has historically been in favour of colonising Mars; in fact, he’s never shied away from it. Among other proposed methods to make the planet habitable for humans is the possibility to nuke it, which Musk seems hell-bent on, cheekily teasing the idea once again. What he actually means by “nuking” it is to terraform Mars—a deliberate modification of the planet’s environment to make it fit for humans.
The teasing of this method came after @stats_feed tweeted yesterday, “While Mars temperatures at the equator can reach as high as a balmy 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer at midday, the average temperature on the surface is -63 degrees Celsius (-82 degrees Fahrenheit), and can reach as low as -143 degrees Celsius (-226 degrees Fahrenheit) during winter in the polar regions.” Musk cheekily replied to the tweet saying, “Needs a little warming up.”
This is not the first time the billionaire has teased the idea; in fact, there is a well documented timeline of his comments on the matter. His theory was first made known back in 2015 after Musk appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and described that the “fixer-upper” planet could be warmed up the “fast way” by “drop[ping] thermo-nuclear weapons over the poles,” to which Colbert responded calling him a “supervillain.” Later on 16 August 2019, Musk famously tweeted, “Nuke Mars!” later adding “T-shirt soon.” As promised, t-shirts did indeed come soon after.
The ‘real life Tony Stark’ later clarified his comments made on the talk show at an event held that same year for SolarCity—one of the largest solar energy companies in the US owned by Musk. He’s not looking to actually nuke the surface of the planet, just the sky over the poles every few seconds, he clarified. I’m not sure that’s any better, Musk… The idea behind this proposed method would be to form “two tiny pulsing suns” over these poles. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that our Sun is a large fusion explosion,” he explained.
Following his 2019 comments, the Tesla founder did his best to respond to scientific queries on this plan, making me think he is probably prepared to go to any lengths necessary to expand and explore this method. A 2020 Russian news agency TASS article—whereby SpaceX’s terraforming Mars strategy was questioned by a Russian space official—was shared with Musk via Twitter. The official stated, “For a thermonuclear explosion on Mars’ pole, one of the plans of SpaceX, to have tangible results, more than 10,000 launches of missiles that can carry the largest payloads and are being developed now are needed.”
To which Musk replied, “No problem.”
Just shy of a year later, that previously mentioned t-shirt made a criticised appearance. In an image posted and shared by Saturday Night Live (SNL) in May 2021, to promote the SpaceX CEO’s controversial hosting gig, Musk was seen sporting a T-shirt that read “Nuke Mars.” The picture only swelled the complaints against the show and Lorne Michaels—the show’s executive producer—for selecting Musk for the job.
So Musk’s been in favour of it and his latest tweet seems to showcase that he still is (so much so that it’s become a meme at this point) but what exactly is the ‘science’ behind his strategy? The tiny ‘suns’ that the dropping of thermonuclear weapons would form—according to Musk—would proceed to warm the planet and transform any frozen carbon dioxide into gas. Essentially, the problem that we have on Earth, with CO2 warming up our planet, is what would happen in the case of Mars. The more CO2 present in the atmosphere of the planet, the hotter its surface would become.
Such a mission is incredibly complicated, not scientifically certain and likely impossible to come to fruition but Musk’s blasé response to call it a “little warming up” is another in a long list of his “supervillain” tendencies.
SpaceX—Elon Musk’s company—is set to launch four people into space this Wednesday (15 September) on a three-day mission that is the first ever to orbit the Earth with exclusively private citizens on board. The ‘Inspiration4’ mission concludes a summer that saw billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos make it to space, on Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spaceships respectively, a few days apart in July.
The crew of Inspiration4 have undergone rigorous training to prepare them for a voyage around the Earth. And thanks to the mission’s financial backer, billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, they will fly much higher, faster and further than both Branson and Bezos.
The mission itself is far more ambitious in scope than the few weightless minutes Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin customers can buy. The SpaceX rocket will be flying further than the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS). “The risk is not zero,” said Isaacman in an episode of a Netflix documentary about the mission. “You’re riding a rocket at 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometres) per hour around the Earth. In that kind of environment there’s risk,” he continued.
SpaceX has already given no fewer than ten astronauts rides to the ISS on behalf of NASA—but this will be the first time it’s taking non-professional astronauts. While no price has been revealed for the mission, a single launch of one of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets is believed to cost around $50 million—well within the reach of Isaacman, who has also splashed out on Super Bowl adverts for the mission.
Lift-off is scheduled for Wednesday at 8:00 pm Eastern Time (ET) from launch pad 39A, at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida, at which the Apollo missions to the Moon took off. In addition to Isaacman, who is the mission commander, three non-public figures were selected for the voyage. Each crew member was picked to represent a pillar of the mission.
The youngest, Hayley Arceneaux, is a childhood bone cancer survivor, who represents “hope.” She will become the first person with a prosthetic to go to space. The 29-year-old was picked because of her work as a Physician Assistant in Memphis for St. Jude’s Hospital, the charitable beneficiary of Inspiration4.
Former US Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42, secured the seat of “generosity.” The last seat represents “prosperity” and was offered to Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old Earth science professor who, in 2009, narrowly missed out on becoming a NASA astronaut. She will be only the fourth African American woman to go to space.
Over the three days of orbit, the crew’s sleep, heart rate, blood and cognitive abilities will be analysed. Tests will be carried out before and after the flight to study the effect of the trip on their body. The idea is to accumulate data for future missions with private passengers.
Although space travel remains for the moment only partially open to a privileged few, the stated goal of the mission is to make space accessible for more people. “In all of human history, fewer than 600 humans have reached space,” said Isaacman. “We are proud that our flight will help influence all those who will travel after us.”