Musk wants to change the car you drive, the source of your electricity, and the
planet you live on, and he just might have the chutzpah to do it.
"When I was in college, I thought three areas were essential to the benefit of humanity: the internet, alternative energy and interplanetary travel," said Musk. "I wanted to do things that expand the scope of human consciousness because these are good things. Everything we try to do is for this aim."
He now runs two companies, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, which respectively promise to bring the world the first affordable electric sedan in 2012 and pedestrian interplanetary travel in the next 20 years. He is also the founder of a third company, SolarCity, which is focused on bringing solar power to the masses.
He has faced setbacks in terms of finances and technology, and American sentiment is not in his favor, but he remains the eternal optimist. In 20 years, he believes most of the electricity in our homes will come from solar, most of the manufactured cars will be electric and people living on Mars will not only be possible, his company SpaceX will be running personnel and cargo trips on a regular basis.
"I have a basic architectural design in my mind that I think I could accomplish in 20 years. I think it's possible. I don't know if it's possible, but I think it is," said Musk.
When asked why he believes alternative energy and space travel were important to the survival of humanity, Musk gave very simple answers because to him, these are very simple problems.
Regarding sustainable energy, he said, very simply, "If it's not sustainable, we're going to hit a wall." He believes that, "even if you consider the environmental issues nonexistent, even if you think that America has every drop of oil in the world, we still need to get off oil because the resource will eventually become scarce, the prices will sky rocket and the economy will implode."
He finds space travel as the solution to a similar issue. The way Musk sees it, we're running out of resources on our planet and the only way to survive as a race, is to find other places to inhabit. In his words, "it's life insurance."
SpaceX has developed the world's first fully reusable launch vehicles and was rewarded COTS funding by NASA in order to demonstrate delivery and return of cargo to the International Space station. Could Mars be next? Maybe.
But sentiment here at home, with endless world wars, famine and fire, seems resistant to the allocation of government resources for what seems like a pipe dream. Even a question from the audience brought up the point, "Why not take a portion of these funds and direct them towards solving the intractable problems here on Earth?"
Musk doesn't believe they are mutually exclusive. He believes there is room for both investment in innovation and money to solve the world's ills, but perhaps at the crux of his argument, is that the world is actually not doing so bad.
"I read an article the other day and it said that we are actually living in the least violent time in the history of the world," said Musk, "China and India are making advances more than ever before...life is actually pretty good."
What do you think? Is pedestrian space travel worthy of government funds and focus? Or is it a mere distraction from the problems we need to solve here at home?
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