In September of 2016, Musk treated the world to an early sneak-peak at his proposed super-heavy launch vehicle. Previously known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, the renamed Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) was the centerpiece to Musk’s long-term vision of conducting commercial trips to orbit, to the Moon, and even to Mars. Since that time, the mission architecture and even the name of the system have changed a few times.
For example, in September of 2017 – during a presentation titled “Making Life Interplanetary” – Musk presented the world with an updated design of launch system, which had been renamed the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and the Big Falcon Spacecraft (BFS). And just recently, Musk announced the system will henceforth be known as the “Starship”, and its rocket the “Super Heavy“.
For years, Elon Musk and the company he founded to reduce the associated costs of space exploration (SpaceX) have been leading the charge in the development of private spaceflight. Beyond capturing the attention of the world with reusable rocket tests and the development of next-generation space vehicles, Musk has also garnered a lot of attention for his long-term plans.
These plans were the subject of a presentation made on Friday, September 29th, during the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) – which ran from September 25th to September 29th in Adelaide, Australia. During the course of the presentation, Musk detailed his plans to send cargo ships to Mars by 2022 and to conduct regular aerospace trips between major cities here on Earth.
When Elon Musk speaks publicly about SpaceX and their efforts to make space travel less expensive, people listen. He attracts all kinds of scientists and journalists to his presentations. But he also attracts… other types of people. And those people ask some strange questions.
Musk must be getting used to it by now. He’s one of those public figures that, by virtue of his efforts to bring the future closer, attracts a lot of interest. But some of the questions in the Q&A following his presentation on Sept. 27 were truly bizarre.
Anybody could stand in line at one of the microphones in the audience and ask their question. And ask they did.
One man started off by saying he just recently attended Burning Man in the desert. Mars is like one big desert, he said, with no water to wash away all the sewage. What will future Mars colonists do with all their s**t he asked?
I felt bad for the guy. Here was his chance to ask Musk, who is clearly some sort of hero the guy, any question about space travel. And he chose to ask about poop. It was truly cringe-worthy, but Musk handled it well. He must be used to it.
It’s not like it’s not a legitimate concern, way down the line, if we ever do establish a city. But good grief. Musk was there to talk about the Interplanetary Transport System, not the nuts and bolts of city planning. It’s clear that this gentleman travelled all that way just to ask about sewage. Fail. (Jump to 1:06:30 in the video for that bit of magic.)
Another person asked everyone to give Elon a hand because he “Inspires the s**t out of us!” (At 1:10:35 in the video.) Musk looked uncomfortable. I don’t think he likes the hero-worship part of his gig. The guy then tried to give him a comic book about Mars, but complained that security wouldn’t let him. Ummmm, yeah.
One person complained that SpaceX won’t hire internationally, and how can they claim to be going interplanetary when they won’t even hire from other countries? Musk patiently explained that when it comes to rocketry, the government tightly restricts who is allowed to come from other countries to work on projects. Rocketry is governed by the same rules as weaponry, as it turns out. Thanks for explaining, Elon.
There were others. One lady wanted to come upstairs and give him a kiss, on behalf of all the ladies. Another asked if they were going to mathematically determine the most expendable human on Earth, and send them to Mars? That gem is 1:16:45 in the video. BTW, that guy thought it would be Michael Cera. Huh?
The same guy wanted to pitch a comedy video to him after the presentation. He was, unfortunately, turned down.
Another guy, who called himself a “local idiot” asked if Elon himself was planning on going to Mars. The guy said he would’ve hated to put in all this work and then not go. Musk’s answer was, in short, that he would like to go, but only if a good succession plan was in place in case he perished. That way the company’s work could continue.
There were some good questions too, of course. Questions about launch site for the craft, where it will be manufactured, and other pertinent questions around who should be the first people to go. Others asked about the journey itself, and how travellers would be kept safe from radiation and other hazards. So the Q&A wasn’t a waste of time by any means.
The whole presentation is worth watching, if you haven’t already. For those of you who just want to watch the wackiest parts of the Q&A, you’re in luck. There’s a highlight video.