Opinion

Subsidizing Elon Musk’s Dream

Derek Hunter Contributor

The idea of traveling to Mars is all the talk among space enthusiasts. The red planet is just sitting there, waiting, almost daring humans to walk on it, even colonize it. While the idea is intriguing, it won’t be cheap. And at least one of the “pioneers” hoping to send people to Mars, billionaire Elon Musk, is mapping his path right through your wallet.

In an attempt to have his own “Kennedy moment,” President Barack Obama this month declared his desire to make visiting Mars a reality. “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time,” the President wrote in an op-ed for CNN.

That’s an ambitious goal, and a bold declaration from the man who ended NASA’s ability to travel into space.

But Americans do love the idea. The nation still takes great pride in being the first to land a man on the moon, as it should.

However, the idea of traveling to Mars is not being billed as a return of America’s dominance in in space. It’s more of a private enterprise, with public funding.

Elon Musk, the billionaire businessman behind Tesla Motors, among other things, is keen to make colonizing Mars a reality. In fact, it’s been described as his dream. And Musk knows how to dream and achieve.

His dream of Mars, however, is not something he’s willing to pay for himself.

Like much of Musk’s fortune, his dream of Mars is something for which he wants taxpayers to help fund while he profits.

Taxpayer subsidies are nothing new to Elon Musk. According to the Los Angeles Times, his companies “have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support.” Pretty sure anyone could be a billionaire if the government were driving Brinks truck after Brinks truck full of someone’s cash to your house on a regular basis.

Musk, with a net worth of around $12 billion, wants taxpayers to subsidize the cost of achieving Mars to the tune of around $10 billion in a “public-private partnership.” Whenever you hear those words hide your wallet.

His SpaceX company, which is already engaged in taxpayer funded space travel through supplying the International Space Station, doesn’t have the funds to cover the project alone. And, apparently, the investment from the private sector isn’t forthcoming.

Musk’s goal is commercial space travel, and why not? It’s certainly an untapped market. But why should taxpayers fund any of it if his company would profit from it? If it’s a viable commercial opportunity, he should be able to find the needed funds from investors, not taxpayers.

The moon landing wasn’t a private enterprise, it was a government endeavor. Private companies were contracted to develop the technology needed to make it so, but the ultimate goal was discovery and science, not a new vacation destination.

The innovations that came out of the NASA’s race to the moon are legendary and have benefited all mankind. But those innovations and the profits made from them were byproducts, not the goal. The same cannot be said of Musk’s motives.

He’s talking about selling seats on his transport to Mars for about $200,000 each and launching his first mission by 2024, about a decade ahead of the President’s timeline.

One day a vacation to Mars will likely be a reality, once colonies are established and the trip is shortened (it would take almost 2 years with today’s technology). But should you scramble together the price of a ticket, the dreamer himself likely won’t be on your flight.

When asked if he’d be taking off for the red planet on the first trip, Musk said bluntly, the chances of death are too high for him. “I’d definitely need to have a good succession plan because the probability of death is really high on the first mission. And I’d like to see my kids grow up,” he said.

So Musk is willing to have his company spend taxpayer money to achieve his dream, charge passengers a small fortune for the results of those subsidies, but won’t go himself. There’s no point in being the richest man on Mars when there’s nothing to spend it on.

I’m all for space exploration, and I’m all for dreaming. What I oppose, and everyone should oppose, is taxpayers funding the childhood dreams of billionaires and their vanity projects. The idea of the private sector racing to Mars is an appealing one, but it should be the private sector that pays for it. If Elon Musk wants to reap the rewards of colonizing Mars he should have to take the risks involved as well.