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One episode in: ‘Mars’ Proves We’re Not Ready to Be a Two Planet Species

Mars Rover

National Geographic’s “Mars” interchanges documentary footage with interviews from 2016 of the people trying to get there and scientists and authors who theorize what it’ll take with a science fiction story set in 2033 about the first manned mission to Mars. It’s a creative and ambitious attempt to get people interested in space travel again.

In the present day, the series focuses on SpaceX’s rocket building and failures. Interviews with Elon Musk are cut with scenes of rockets exploding and the SpaceX team reacting to the failures. Neil de Grasse Tyson has a small segment, and the author of “How We’ll Live on Mars” Stephen Petranek also makes his suggestions for successful colonization.

‘Mars’ celebrates humanity’s reaching for the stars while exposing everything that people will face, including the unknown, as they head to Mars. Humans are still in the infant stage of rocket control and production, even though rockets for transportation to space have been around since 1957’s Sputnik.

Sputnik, instead of inspiring an international cooperative effort, sparked a space race that sent Americans to the moon. It’s the international collective in “Mars” that’s still missing in real life. It exists in “Mars,” but in reality, the collective has yet to emerge. So, humanity is relying on Elon Musk, his SpaceX program and his ability to build a viable company in a capitalist society to send people to Mars.

SpaceX has already faced numerous failures, which is a part of the creative and innovation processes. They are attempting to do something no one has ever done. The failures and mistakes should be celebrated and learned from. They are the stepping stones to Mars. But what happens if SpaceX fails as a company? Who gets those records? Who will learn from the failures? If they stay with Musk or get lost in the dissolution of the company, those mistakes and failures are for nothing.

The 2033 depictions are entertaining, but given what we know now, 2033 is too ambitious of a deadline. With only 14 years left to get there and no infrastructure in place, the deadline will need to be pushed further into the future. At least, if we can judge by one episode.

Going to Mars is going to take more resources than one man has. Musk has the right intentions. He has the goal. The real question is how long his fortune can hold out while he pays people for failure after failure, and how much tie he’s willing to wait for success. At age 47, he’s got another 30 years or so left assuming an average life span. It may not be enough to get to the red planet. And the last unknown for Musk could doom SpaceX long before it gets to the end of its proposed road.