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3 October 2016

The first step in our journey to Mars has been taken

Written by: Symon Madry, Account Director at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

Interplanetary travel has captured the imagination of sci-fi geeks for decades. Growing up on well-worn VHS copies of Star Wars before graduating to Stargate, then adding to teenage confusion with the just plain whacked-out antics of Lexx, and finally considering this thing called existence via Battlestar Galactica, it fed my curiosity for what else could possibly be out there.

(Answer: serious father issues, parasitic symbiotes masquerading as Egyptian gods, planet-destroying spaceships crewed by ‘love slaves’, and the last remaining humans in the universe. Apparently.)

Even non-sci-fi fans have probably come across videos that demonstrate the infinitesimal size of this real Earth in comparison to the rest of the known universe. We can surely agree that there’s so much out there we don’t know. Not only is it intriguing, but it puts some of our daily issues in real perspective.

Elon Musk, billionaire founder of SpaceX, has now outlined his vision for making humans a ‘multi-planetary race’. It’s a relatively detailed plan outlining everything from how the rockets will operate (reusable, 100-person vessels), the cost (a one person ticket will eventually set you back the price of an average house in the US), and even how to pass the time in your voyage to the red planet (zero-gravity games, movies, and maybe even a restaurant).

Whatever your view on the programme or Musk, it’s important to note that for the general population, the vision is now set. Whether Musk/SpaceX or someone else succeeds in putting the first people or colony on Mars, and regardless of whether they do it in 10, 50 or 100 years’ time, this will be the moment they point back to and acknowledge as the day the plan for humans to travel to Mars was first properly set.

Communicating this, in some ways, was the hardest part. The word ‘innovative’ and ‘vision’ are thrown around too liberally, to the point where in the wrong context they have no impact. This is the absolutely right context. Standing in front of the world and saying, “We should do this. Let’s do this,” takes more courage than removing an antiquated piece of hardware from a mobile handset. In tech circles we often moan and groan about whether a company is innovating or iterating. Here the answer is clear.

To some, Musk might seem like S.R. Hadden, the billionaire industrialist from 1997’s Contact who singularly funds a secret space exploration machine to send Jodie Foster’s character to another galaxy: crazy, full of altruistic nice ideas, and with enough money to do them. We need challenging ideas like this. The unfortunate fact is that organisations like NASA, which are specifically charged with tasks such as reaching Mars, are having their budgets cut, stifling any such opportunity.

As we constantly counsel clients, there is a need to put action behind vision, but Musk has set himself apart (again) as someone who has the vision, articulates why it’s good for humanity, and then sets a plan in place.

Sure, others have grand visions, but as just moonshots, thanks to Musk, they now might not go far enough.

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