SpaceX and Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk have been teasing the idea of sending nuclear weapons to Mars since 2015. The tech entrepreneur claims that humans could — sooner or later — discover a way to warm Mars enough for human colonization.
According to Musk, the easiest way to make Mars habitable is through warming the planet by inserting greenhouse gases, which will be achieved when vaporizing Mars’ ice caps. Apparently, Musk’s idea is to drop nuclear weapons on the Red Planet’s poles to do so.
Musk, this week, reiterated the idea and even publicizing a “Nuke Mars” T-shirt.
Recently, however, tweets from the multi-billion dollar CEO indicate that he’s backing out from the “Nuke Mars” idea.
The new plan to terraform Mars
Musk’s nuclear plan for Mars involves nuclear weapons used as some sort of heat-producing source or “artificial suns” by exploding them near the planet’s atmosphere.
“Nuke Mars refers to a continuous stream of very low fallout nuclear fusion explosions above the atmosphere to create artificial suns. Much like our sun, this would not cause Mars to become radioactive,” the entrepreneur tweeted yesterday.
When people from Twitter asked about the potential of this to make the planet radioactive, Musk said that it will not be a risky ordeal.
“Not risky imo & can be adjusted/improved real-time. Essentially need to figure out [the] most effective way to convert mass to energy, as Mars is slightly too far from this solar system’s fusion reactor (the sun),” he added in another tweet.
On Tuesday, however, Musk tweeted a new theory, replacing hydrogen bombs with satellites. Specifically, reflector orbitals that would be able to terraform Mars — the same goal from his Nuke Mars idea.
“Might make sense to have thousands of solar reflector satellites to warm Mars vs artificial suns (tbd),” Musk wrote.
According to Rigel Woida, a University of Arizona undergrad who won a NASA prize to study “the use of large aperture, lightweight orbital mirrors for ‘terraforming’ an area of the Martian surface so humans could affordably colonize the Red Planet” in 2006, the idea is quite possible to achieve.
Particularly, due to the distance of the Earth from Mars, it could easily reach very cold temperatures; cold enough that regular humans who visit the planet will need specialized suits in order to survive.
Meanwhile, for people who want to colonize the Red Planet, innovative ways of sustainably warming the planet for long-term will be needed to consider it calling a future home for the human species.
Musk didn’t exactly refer to Woida, but his study seems to match with the concept. In a published report in 2007 (PDF link), Woida detailed how a system like this might function. The idea would be to place a series of satellites in orbit that would strategically reflect the sun’s warmth down onto the surface of Mars.
Woida concluded in his paper that the reflector concept was feasible and “the engineering requirements needed to complete the heating of a small portion of Mars are attainable.”
This concept was otherwise contradicted by a 2018 NASA-backed research. According to the findings, it won’t be possible to terraform Mars using present-day technology. “Transforming the inhospitable Martian environment into a place astronauts could explore without life support is not possible without technology well beyond today’s capabilities,” the space agency said in a release.
On the other hand, Musk has been known to push technology beyond its limits and is doing so with various ventures outside space exploration. Relevantly, Musk’s SpaceX recently started launching the first few of a thousands-piece satellite constellation, which aims to provide global internet coverage.
Perhaps in the future, Musk can turn some of his Starlink satellites into orbital reflector satellites that would help him achieve his long-term goal of colonizing Mars.
Musk has stressed quite enough that all he wants is to help humanity colonize Mars and that he started SpaceX in 2002 primarily with this long-term goal in mind.
Now, his SpaceX company is on its way to finishing the 100-passenger Starship spacecraft that’s intended to bring humans to Mars by the 2020s, along with a megarocket to do it called Super Heavy.