With SpaceX now set to receive its $2.6 billion slice of the manned space travel pie, Elon Musk has sensed the time is right to set the Mars agenda. There is nowhere else on the planet where such private financial power, engineering resource, visionary clout, and now responsibility is concentrated into the will of one man. In short, Musk is US citizen number one right now, the mold for mankind.
You’d be excused for thinking Elon Musk is crazy. Even with his unlikely successes in rethinking electric vehicles and commercial spaceflight, the man’s steadfast beliefs in the face of incredible challenges can make him seem like a blind visionary. If you’re of that mindset, Musk’s latest interview — published as part of an excellent feature story on Aeon this week — will do little to change your mind. In it, Musk says that he’s fighting to colonize Mars not for aspirational purposes or advances in R&D that could be used here on earth, but because he feels he must do all he can to keep the flame of humanity alive. “I think we have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness, to make sure it continues into the future,” he says, adding that he thinks the reason we haven’t found other intelligent species might be because there “are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilizations” strewn across the universe.