Kim Stanley Robinson says Elon Musk's Mars plan is a "1920s science-fiction cliché"

In other breaking news, scientists have discovered that fire is hot.

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You read the best of the three, by quite a margin. I quite liked the pseudo science bits in Red Mars around getting things to work and surviving on the planet. What destroyed the experience for me was a question that kept running through my head:
'Why have they sent people with the emotions of school children on this mission?'
For a while after reading this I did wonder if people in higher education/research were actually like this as they had never really left a ‘school’ environment. The characters all seemed to come from this pool and (maybe, who knows) are people KSR actually knew in his life.
I was waiting for a character to be passed a note with ‘my friend fancies you’ on it at any point.

Unfortunately a lot of the book is taken up with this. The following two are basically just this, with a planet as background, plus some political statements that are interesting but simple.


Musk is a bit out there, but in a documentary I saw not too long ago where they interviewed him he said something interesting. He was thinking in terms of an “insurance policy” for the human species by starting a space colony. If we wind up losing Earth, then a space colony could ensure the continuity of the species. I guess one could think in terms of a Noah’s Ark in space. This idea has been broached in science fiction many times over the past 50 years.


Why did you have to spoil it? :wink: I was fine with just leaving it with: [quote=“d_r, post:14, topic:87616”]
Maybe because they liked “her” photo on the dust jacket?


You need to read more Kim Stanley Robinson. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Welcome to bOING bOING, by the way!


Artist (And first-gen reusable rocket prototype): KSR-1
Song: Woop Woop, da sound of da Science Police!


Well, but they kind of are ignoring all the stuff we learned in Apollo. Like building a ship that only works in space, why have everyone board one rocket that has to lift all the infrastructure to Mars every single time, all the bathrooms and galley and whatnot instead of building that high volume low use into a ship that doesn’t deal with the gravity well. Why not even launch the fuel first and then launch the people so if something goes awry on the return people aren’t burning through supplies while we figure out how to launch the next rocket.

Musk’s plan is definitely filled with an awful lot of pie in the sky 1950’s stuff that we have definitely had hard lessons to learn from, number one being “space travel is not and can never be routine, you have to expect things to go awry and play the short odds.” His single ship plan has no way to deal with a stick passenger who just wants off while still in LEO. They paid twenty million dollars, and want to get off, you really want to be in the same ship with them for eight months? Even planning on docking with a local station to refuel would add scads of backup resources.

It’s a series of nice renderings, and I hope it goes well for him, I just wish he’d at least played Kerbal for a while to figure out which resources are worth spending delta v on every time you leave Earth.


I think that Musk is primarily worried about the Singularity.

He thinks that within his lifetime, we’ll have developed malevolent Artificial Intelligence, and if we don’t have a place to retreat to, we’ll be wiped out.

Then again, he is developing self-driving cars, so he can’t be too worried about the AI problem.


That makes no sense. AI is perfectly suited to building a rocket and sending out robots to come get us. For christsake, it’s not like they need to even pack a fucking juice box for the trip whereas we’ll be cowering behind everything we can when there’s a solar flare.


If we do retreat, the malevolent Artificial Intelligence will get there before we do, and will anticipate our every move.

Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence is as much about collective human intelligence as it is about machines. The malevolent AI that strip-mines the entire planet for materials to make as many widgets as possible? You guessed it, it’s us.


Getting there is an engineering problem, surviving there is a biology problem. If Musk is serious about setting up a long-term colony he should be investing a lot more resources in figuring out how to make a self-contained artificial ecosystem work. Nobody has taken a serious stab at that since Biosphere 2 and the biggest lesson learned from that attempt was “wow, this is trickier than we thought.”

Rockets are EASY compared to biomes.




Do you know who KSR actually is, because it doesn’t sound like you do…


Mere billions seems as fanciful as anything else in this plan, if Musk seriously wants to build a self-sustaining colony with a population of a million people.

Putting those resources to other uses might not solve every problem on Earth, but they’d go a hell of a long way. You could even spend some on asteroid/meteor/comet detection and diversion, which could extend the Earth’s useful life as mammalian habitat for millions of years, likely at a fraction of the cost.

The next frontier in space exploration I’d like to see: First, a telescope purpose-built to study and deliver imagery of the Proxima Centauri system. Second, a probe capable of reaching that system and sending back detailed images and data within a reasonable time frame, say a human lifespan (i.e. fast enough to require a massive breakthrough in propulsion, but only to power a very, very small craft).


If we never began a project until we knew the solution for every possible problem, nothing would ever get done. The argument that a single person will never colonize Mars and that it will be an effort of many corporations or government seems a weak one. Of course it will involve more than one company - even if Musk is the only one driving it. But until someone starts to move on the idea, you are going to be hard pressed to get anyone to follow. Someone has to lead the way. Why not Musk? Also, to dismiss the idea out of hand simply because it doesn’t seem to follow the model you have imagined is fairly myopic.
As for the biology vs engineering argument, you have to start somewhere. It seems to me if Musk had started on the biology problem first, we would have people insisting that he needs to address the engineering difficulties first.


This presumes it’s a good idea.

Here’s another idea: let’s build a city of ten million at the South Pole. It’s far more feasible than putting a million people on Mars, so why not? Uh, because it’s a silly, unnecessary, wasteful idea, that’s why not.


She’s cute. No wonder people buy her books.


No one here seemed to have read the interview, in which KSR was very pro-space travel in general:

It’s really heartwarming to see the old science fiction visions of everyday presence in and use of space coming true. I also like the public sector leadership and their “off-earth, for earth” rationale, which is the strongest one by far. Wonderful stuff.

But thinks that Musk specifically hasn’t thought through all aspects of his plan:

I have to note, first, that this scenario is not believable, which makes it a hard exercise to think about further. Mars will never be a single-person or single-company effort. It will be multi-national and take lots of money and lots of years.

So it’s not that KSR is against space travel, he just thinks Musk’s specific plan is not very feasible. He doesn’t go into specifics about that in the interview, but given that the guy has been thinking about/studying/writing hard sci fi about these scenarios for more than 20 years, I suspect he has better reasons than all the crap screamers in this thread have to think otherwise.


It doesn’t sound that silly to me, compared with a city on Mars. Then again, that sets the bar pretty low.

Also, if we put a city of ten million on the South Pole, we just know we’re going to destroy the place. It doesn’t even need to be said. But somehow with Mars, we don’t think about it or don’t care as much.

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I’m kinda surprised I have to point this out but every dollar spent in space results in $14 in new revenue from licensing and new technologies.
I get why you feel that way though. Many people do. It’s the reason we no longer can build the Saturn V or have an operational sub orbital vehicle. But the truth is that not only do we benefit from space exploration and research financially, we also benefit through the science as well. What we learn from such ventures benefits us all. It always has.
Many ventures were unnecessary but I’m thankful we went ahead anyway. From the circumnavigation of the globe, to a young Darwin joining the Beagle on a survey mission, to launching the Hubble space telescope, unnecessary and expensive projects like these may seem silly to you but my eyes are on a greater prize.
Besides, being a single planet species will one day doom us all.