Life on Mars: Did Elon Musk's AMA deliver on lingering questions?

Ask Me Anything: On Sunday, Elon Musk fielded questions from space-travel enthusiasts during a Reddit AMA session meant to supplement his previous SpaceX press conference.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk attends a news conference after unveiling his plans to colonize Mars at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, on September 27, 2016.

Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of SpaceX, has laid out ambitious plans for humanity's future on Mars. At last month's International Astronautical Congress (IAC), Musk revealed new details about his Interplanetary Transport System and the possible costs of colonization.

But Mars travel is a daunting undertaking, and the conference left some lingering questions. Where would colonists live? How might they govern themselves? Are humans psychologically prepared for life on the Red Planet?

On Sunday, Musk fielded questions from space-travel enthusiasts during a Reddit AMA session meant to supplement his previous IAC address. But did he deliver?

This AMA is a techie treasure trove, filled with talk of rocket specs and new metal alloys. Musk clarified SpaceX's current refueling plan: a preliminary ship (dubbed Heart of Gold, a nod to the sci-fi novel "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") will deliver equipment to build a propellant plant on Mars' surface, to be completed by a subsequent crewed mission.

From there, the spaceflight company would attempt to double Earth-Mars rendezvous, which are slated to occur once every 26 months, until the settlement could grow independently. According to Musk, a permanent human habitation on Mars would look a lot like the dome-based enclosures popularized in science-fiction stories and concept art.

Oh, and there will be droids, too.

“Initially, glass panes with carbon fiber frames to build geodesic domes on the surface, plus a lot of miner/tunneling droids,” Musk wrote. “With the latter, you can build out a huge amount of pressurized space for industrial operations and leave the glass domes for green living space.”

But while Musk’s session was rich in technical details, it skimped on more conceptual questions about life on Mars. One Reddit user asked the entrepreneur how Martian radiation might affect the bodies of settlers over time, but the question went unanswered.

There are psychological concerns, too. In preparation for future crewed Mars missions, astronauts must complete rigorous, year-long isolation training sessions. There would be no such requirement for civilian travelers.

“They get to miss the feeling of wind on their faces,” Gloria Leon, a University of Minnesota psychologist who advises NASA on astronaut selection, told The Christian Science Monitor in August. “They miss the smells of nature, or the smell of food cooking. On a Mars voyage, Earth will be out of view. It will be the equivalent of twilight, looking out of the porthole. So there will be boredom – monotony, really – in terms of the environment.”

Nor did Musk answer long-standing questions about the legality of space colonization. It’s still unclear what form of government future Mars colonists might adopt, or if SpaceX actually wants a say in that conversation.

"SpaceX is not a country, so it's unclear whether the international law would apply if it landed on Mars first," the Monitor’s Lonnie Shekhtman reported in September:

Already this ostensible treaty loophole has been exploited. Dennis Hope, a Nevada man, has sold parcels of land on the moon and other planets to nearly 4 million people through his extraterrestrial real estate company Lunar Embassy, according to a 2009 National Geographic report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Life on Mars: Did Elon Musk's AMA deliver on lingering questions?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today