Dateline: Musk City, Mars, July 4, 2076. Here, in the capital of the newly independent United States of Mars, many are still wondering how Elon Musk, the 105-year-old leader of the Martian Revolution, managed to succeed so quickly in his quest for interplanetary liberation.
In fact, Musk’s success wasn’t quick at all; he’d been planning it for more than half a century. Indeed, many say that the origins of the revolution were visible as far back as October 16, 2020, when the entrepreneur, better known for electric cars than for space rockets, declared, to the Mars Society, that the fourth planet from the sun would one day be a “free planet,” operating on “self-governing principles.”
A few days later, Musk’s same sentiments appeared in the fine print of the “terms of service” contract for his Starlink interplanetary communications service (then, of course, just a tiny startup). The Starlink document declared that in the unspecified future, the world would “recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities.”
Musk’s bold claims received only little attention at the time, as the world was preoccupied with other news, including the First Covid Epidemic and the stormy American presidency of Donald J. Trump, Sr.
Yet now with the benefit of hindsight, we see that 2020 was a hinge year in the evolution of humanity into space. Most notably, it was in that year that Musk’s company, SpaceX, sent aloft its Crew Dragon spacecraft; 2020 was also the year that the old United States, then working closely with Musk, established its first Space Force. Moreover, in 2020, China sent a robotic explorer to the moon and back, while other countries, including Europa, India and Russia, launched ambitious space ventures. And fatefully, Japan proved yet again its ability to make contact with asteroids and bring back samples, thus giving that country an early lead in the lucrative business of asteroid mining.
Still, in those days, Musk was best known for his terrestrial success; in 2021, he emerged as the world’s richest man — and soon earned renown, of course, as Earth’s first trillionaire. So in 2031, it was easy for him to finance the first piloted landing on Mars.
In that year, many compared Musk’s Mars landing to the Apollo landing on the Moon in 1969, or even to Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas in 1492. Yet for his part, Musk declared, “It’s more like 1776” — then adding, cryptically, “Mars is a harsh mistress.” That was an allusion, we can note, to a 1966 novel about a lunar independence revolution, written by Robert Heinlein. Yet at the time, few got the reference, because the politically incorrect Heinlein had been canceled, and thus was known to only a few Space Randians.
In fact, during the middle of this century, Musk had became increasingly vocal about the need to get to Mars, for reasons of human exuberance, economic opportunity and the survival of the species. As he had said earlier in his career, “We’re either going to be on Earth forever until some extinction event claims us, or we’re going to be a multi-planet species, out there exploring the stars.”
Similarly, other 12-digit “tricoons,” such as Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, spoke of populating the solar system with “a trillion people.” Bezos, a champion of orbiting space cylinders, would soon prove to be Musk’s arch-rival in the space war.
Still, in the meantime, some people — soon to be known as “One Earthers,” or “Earth Onlies”—spoke out against exploration efforts. One such was environmentalist Bill McKibben, who wrote in 2020, “The real danger of fantasizing about space travel is that it creates a moral hazard: one begins to care less about the fate of our own world.” To which Musk responded, “The Moon and Mars are often thought of as some escape hatch for rich people, but it won’t be that at all. For the early people that go to Mars, it will be far more dangerous.”
Indeed, Mars was dangerous; the first few settlers, many of them rich on earth, suffered the fate of the desperately poor on earth, dying early and in droves.
Yet still, scientific progress did what it always does — it progressed. And so the once-mortal challenges of low-gravity, radiation and “red depression” were soon solved. In fact, by 2060, Musk City alone boasted a population of 50,000.
But then came the crisis — that is, when Musk, by now himself living on Mars, announced his plan to terraform the planet through the use of nuclear weapons. This announcement led to hue and cry among various nations and international agencies, and yet Musk responded with an unprintable expletive before exploding an atomic device to begin the terraforming process.
Observers were puzzled as to how he had obtained the weapon, and yet Musk then upped the ante, telling Earthlings, “I have plenty more, all over!” Indeed, he provided a map, showing many impermeable black-box “packages” scattered across Earth; a new kind of nuclear deterrence had been created. Thus was the beginning of a long and tense period of threats and counter-threats, which we now remember as Cold War Five.
Fortunately for solarian peace, the confrontation was resolved without open conflict; after all, other parts of the solar system had already achieved a degree of autonomy, and when Musk offered to pay a severance fee, sharing the quadrillions of Martian mineral wealth with the United Nations, the deal was done, and Mars’ independence was achieved.
So now, humanity is ensconced on two different planets, as well as in various cylinders, satellites and asteroids. And while there are still plenty of things to feud about, men, women — and the others — are coming to realize that there’s more to be gained by looking outward than inward.
The true history of our trek to the stars has begun.
James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996.