Tim Urban of Wait but Why joins Nick to cover SpaceX & Elon Musk’s Mission to Mars, Part 1. We will address questions including:
- Tim, can you start us off by telling us your story and how that led to the launch of Wait but Why?
- You’ve written about Space travel, AI, the Fermi Paradox, Procrastination, Cryogenics and much more… Where do you come up w/ your topic ideas?
- Today I want to talk about your interaction w/ Elon and specifically the story you put together on SpaceX… to start off, how did you first get connected w/ Elon?
- You’ve also done a specific feature on Elon as well as Tesla… can you talk about why you felt it was so important to do this piece on SpaceX?
- When discussing Musk’s Mission to put 1M people on Mars… one first needs to understand the nature of extinction events. You introduce that well by presenting a bet between two aliens, Zurple and Quignee, on the planet Uvuvuwu. Can you walk us through the bet and why they are making it?
- Can you talk about the number and magnitude of extinction events that the earth has already experienced and the potential causes of extinction events?
- You use a hard drive analogy to explain why Musk wants to put 1M people on Mars. Can you recap this analogy?
- Can you describe your discussion w/ Elon on ‘A Will’ and ‘A Way’ and how this led him to the mission of revolutionizing the cost of space travel?
- Can you give us an overview of the major costs for rockets and how SpaceX has and potentially will continue to significantly lower these costs?
- Tim on Twitter
- Wait but Why: How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars
- The Elon Musk Blog Series: Wait But Why
- Part 2 of the interview with Tim
Nick: Today # Tim Urban joins us from New York City. # Tim is founder and the author of my number one favorite blog #Wait but Why. A site where he writes posts about life, happiness, relationships, AI, history, aliens and a whole lot more. And # Tim recently great a did a great ted talk on procrastination that I’d highly recommend you check out. #Tim, it’s a big thrill to get a chance to chat. Thank you for coming on.
Tim: Yeah, thank you #Nick, good to be here.
Nick: So, can you start off by telling us your story and how that led to the launch of #Wait but Why?
Tim: Sure. So I, my story kind of goes all over the place. But I, I was always someone who wanted to do a lot of different things, wanted to try a lot of different things. And I’m, I’m not good at being like intellectually monogamous. I get really, like I’m an intellectual slut. I, I get really bored of, I get get really excitable about new things when it comes to kind of things to think about and talk about. And then I often, I get, it becomes, I’m not someone who just always wants to just talk about this thing, I want to move on. And so, in a broad sense, you know, if you flash to like my mid-20s I was, I was running a small tutoring company that I, that I started with a, with a friend. And, and so we were like kind of in the business for a little bit. We were, we were building something. But then I was also writing, I was an act into writing a musical with a different friend. And I also had a blog that I had written like 300 posts on. So I was all over the place, trying to figure out, you know, which, which thing I should kind of what, what I should dive full into because it was, it was kind of torturous to do all these things like badly. Because that’s what you do when you do three things at the same time.
Nick: Sounds like my life
Tim: Yeah. And it, it’s not, it’s like the downfall of people like me and maybe you too, I don’t know. And so, so then, you know, then #Andrew and I, #Andrew owns the tutoring company with me, that’s our like little small business, we, you know, we talked about, you know, we’re doing, if, if, if I sort of did one of these creative projects that we could kind of, you know, they could maybe also be a cool business, you know, then we would just, then I would go and do that. While he continued to grow the, the, the business we had started. And that was the beginning of #Wait but Why. I just kind of decided that blogging was something I had liked doing. I had written a ton of posts and it would cool to have the opportunity to try to do it full time. Just to like have not instead of, you know, the blog I was writing probably took a 10% of my time. It was like the, the last of the three things I was doing in terms of priorities. And, you know, I kind of thought there’s probably a lot of potential here if I went full time, given that we would see on our Facebook newsfeeds just so much content, buzz feed and stuff like that. And yet most of it we didn’t think was that good. I mean, it was okay and, and if some of it was, you know, hyper targeted, it was just hit or miss and, and even the good ones they were, it was very, you know, bite size. And so , you know, we noticed when someone, someone like #Michael Louis or someone, you know, would do these, one of these long but really good articles, a good, a really good New Yorker article. Or one of these great, you know, op-eds and, you know, New York Times opinion or articles or something, when it was just something really good, it would, it would totally stand out in the ocean of content and would make the rounds because people were excited that there was like a really good article out there.
Tim: And so that was kind of the beginning of kind of seeing what will, if I went full time with this and wrote, you know, 60 hours a week and just worked on blog posts, what would happen? And we kind of just thought that people would notice. So that was the beginning. That was about, you know, a little under 3 years ago in the summer of 13. And there wasn’t much of plan, much of a plan beyond that, like basically I’m going to sit there for 60 hours a week and, and you know do something blog related. I didn’t know exactly what I’d be writing or how often. There, there was an initial plan to go twice a week which just shows that, you know, A- neither of us knew me that well and B- we also didn’t quite understand the level of depth I would end up wanting to go into.
Tim: You know, there was, there was no intention of doing 25,000 word articles at the time. And so that started that way and then it moved to once a week. And, and, and now it’s even less than that because the, there, many posts at least are things I want to get into a lot of depth in. And so that’s been, that’s become one of the main distinguishing features of #Wait but Why, the articles are pretty thorough.
Another one is that you know, I, there is, they are illustrated because I, I knew I wanted to do that because in the last blog, right, very, right towards the end I, I have written like 300 blog posts over 6 years. But it was in the last like 10 that I started experimenting with drawing things into the blogs. Which I never even considered and then, you know, I just decided one day to see what, what would happen, and, and I ended up really liking that. That was, that was like a good match for my writings. So I knew I was going to kind of do that and so that, that, that was going to be part of it. I’m, and then as topics, I think you know, we were probably thinking a little more along the lines of just, just kind of funny things, you know. Like funny lists or funny stories or observations about society and stuff like that. And there is a lot of that on $Wait but Why, but it’s, there’s been, there’s become, a lot more stuff that’s, that’s found it’s way into the topic lists that is, that definitely wasn’t planned at the beginning like a lot of stuff that’s kind of deeper about life or psychology and then it, you know, a lot of stuff about tech and science and the future. So it’s, it’s been nice, it’s been nice to explore topics on this platform.
Nick: So you tell me you don’t pay an illustrator to, to do all these, these fancy drawings?
Tim: Oh you, you would be able to tell if I were paying a professional. No, that is me. And, and, and it’s me not just, you know, doing simple things but it’s me with my hand on the command Z buttons undo, undo, undo, undo until like oh there with the smile it finally looks right. And a lot of that is trial, trial and error, so.
Nick: So was it you and #Andrew getting together and just hey let’s do this as an experiment or was it a very sort of intentional hey here’s what this is going to be and, and let’s go deep and let’s get this right?
Tim: Well, it, it was, it was basically, you know, #Andrew and I have been friends since we were 5. He knows me well. He knows that I, I, you know, he knew how badly I wanted to be doing something creative full time. And we didn’t really need both of us at the other company because we had this really big great staff at this point and it had grown after 7 years. And #Andrew, you know, could, could do that CEO all on his own perfectly well. We didn’t really need both of us. And we kind of thought that it, I think you know, #Andrew’s theory is if I just like, if #Tim is just going full time with something creative like full time and he’s totally accountable for it and there’s nothing else on his plate like something good will happen. I think he has a lot of faith in me. And, and I wanted to, I really wanted to be doing that, something full time creative, I had never done that before. I had never kind of like quite had the guts to do that before. I always had a hedge, I had always had something else I’m also doing. So its was good. I was, you know, 31, I was like if this wasn’t going to happen now I just, you know, it had to, had to move on itself. That was really the beginning. It was more like a personal thing than anything. It wasn’t like the two of us were like we ned to get this message out to the world. There was none of that. It was like, I was, I was going to do something I’m like really excited about. And, and so that was the beginning. And then it’s just gone where it’s gone. And then, you know, what, what helped a lot was it, it caught on early. Like the very first post got a good amount of traffic and then a couple months in there was a post I did on Gen Y which really, really blew up and took the blog from having a 300 email subscribers to 30,000 in, in a week. I mean,
Tim: it was crazy. It was, it was nuts. Yeah it was, that was, that was the kind of, it put the blog on the map. And from then on, there has now been this external pressure of having an audience, which also kind of puts, it puts both pressure to, to get to, to work hard but it also put pressure to make everything perfect which is not good for productivity. So it’s just some balance, there’s two forces now, two, two new conflicting forces. One is oh my god, there’s all these readers. I can’t publish this till it’s, till it’s good enough, which will, which I’ll do that forever if, if nothing stops me. And then the other force is oh my god there’s all these readers like they’re all going to go away, I’d better publish something. So it’s like those two battle each other and their result is me getting stuff up sometimes.
Nick: Right, right. I don’t even want to hear your subscribers now. My, my measly 10,000 subscriber-ship is, is looking pretty marginal compared to yours
Tim: I, I mean I’m with you, I mean, I, I , on the other blog, I blogged for 6 years. There were a 160 subscribers 6 years in. I mean, it’s, it’s just that, you know, sometimes you just do the right thing at the right time or the right article at the right time, I don’t know, but. And maybe it’s, maybe it’s easier now to get subscribers, maybe people are more open to the concept. But I mean, I spent 6 years with a small, dedicated but very small audience. And it didn’t really grow. It grew very, very slowly. So you know, I, I , I’ve, I’ve been there for a long time. And it’s, and the truth is you calibrate pretty quickly. Like the fact that there were a 150 subscribers then, and I knew that there were probably you know, 1500 people visiting once a month, at each, you know, every month. That’s, by the time I got used to it was kind of, you know, almost as big a deal to me as the audience that #Wait but Why has now, now that I’ve gotten used to that. So it’s like you end up your brain kind of calibrates and if there’s people suddenly like your brain’s very excited about that. And, and at some point it just starts to lose its meaning when the numbers get bigger I think. Even if, you know, your brain knows , you know, rationally that no this is like this is like a lot of people reading this. But you know, I don’t know, I just think it’s hard to wrap your head around that anyway.
Nick: Right. Yeah, so you’ve written about Space Travel, AI, the Fermi Paradox, Procrastination, Cryogenics and, and much, much more. Where do you come up with these topic ideas?
Tim: Yeah, so I, I think I do it in the same way lots of writers or specially stand up comedians do, which is, you know, a good comic what they do is every time they think of something funny in life or they think of an observation in life, they just write it down. That, that’s the only difference between a lot of these great comics and normal people is I mean, they, they have great delivery, they are funny people, but a lot of the, their brilliance is actually just a, just, just collecting. It’s like, it’s like some people collect coins or stamps. Like they collect observations. And so I do the same thing. I collect and because it’s a little broader than, than just comedy, I collect observations all the time but I’m also collecting, you know, interesting things I come across, or mind blowing thoughts I have, or that someone else says to me in a conversation, or a technology about the, you know, future technology that someone mentions to me that I, that I write down, or a topic I keep hearing about, or something in history I don’t really get that I wish I did, I got better. I ended up doing an article on Iraq, like the whole history of Iraq, which was born out of me saying writing down one day, explain Iraq, because I didn’t understand the whole situation. I didn’t get why Saudi Arabia and Iran were actually behind this, this thing, didn’t make any, that, I, what, why? you know, and so I
Tim: had to read to about it, then I, then I understood. Then I wrote about it. So um, so for me it’s just collecting, collecting, collecting. And then, you know, it means that one problem, I have a handful of problems, one problem I don’t have is lacking of post topics. When I opened my post topic document, and it’s a 116 last time I checked, 116 Microsoft Word pages long because it’s just, it’s also , this goes back to the old blog. I’ve been collecting thoughts for ten years. So I, I can only skim through there and if anything there’s, there’s, I’m, I’m overwhelmed by the number, like, I, you know, I went through at one point and I started, I, I picked out the topics I really wanted to write about soon out of that list so I could just, so I didn’t have to scroll through the whole thing. And I bolded them and put them, put them at the top of the list. But now that bold list has grown to be a bunch of pages long. So it’s like um, it’s, it’s just, there’s just too many things to understand in the world or to laugh at in the world, or to like wonder at in the world. Really those are the three categories. And if, if, you know, a lot of things satisfy one of those categories.
Nick: Interesting. Yeah, it sounds like my list of problems that need to be solved in startups that I hope
Tim: oh yeah, endless
Nick: get founded to address those. But, you know, speaking of those topics I wanted to dive in and talk about your interaction with #Elon Musk and specifically the story you put together on #SpaceX. To start off, can you talk a little bit about how you first got connected with #Elon?
Tim: Yeah. So that was kind of a crazy thing that happened. I was, I actually, so I, I’ve been following him for a long time. And one of the things I saw him tweet out in late 2014 was a link to #Nick Bostrom’s book on AI called Superintelligence. And, you know, I heard a lot about AI but I was, I didn’t know that much about it. And I didn’t know if it’s something I should be taking seriously. And then #Elon tweets it out, so that was really interesting to me. So I said well okay, if he, if he’s taking it seriously and he’s, you know, he’s not into, into BS, you know, he, he’s very very actively roots out BS and criticizes it. So if he was into this, it must be something worthy of reading about. So I went and read that book. And I just my eyes were just wide open the whole time. Saying like oh my god, I cannot believe we’re not all talking about this. So then, you know, duh obvious post topic. And so then I went and read two more books. I read a bunch of stuff, you know, delayed the post schedule for a bunch of weeks while I just learned about this. And then I wrote two really long posts. I wrote, i wrote one really long post and broke into two parts because I was halfway through. It was already taking forever and I realized like this is just going to be so long. So I published the first part and a few days later, #Elon tweets out that blog post which I just couldn’t believe. And so then suddenly there was all this pressure on part 2 because I was like oh god what if he reads this? So I, I, I , you know, worked really hard on it, published it, nothing happened. And I said damn it. And two weeks later he tweets it out, again, you know, and I, and it took him a while but he tweeted it out. I couldn’t believe it again. And then he tweeted out another post on the Fermi Paradox, another #Wait but Why post, a couple weeks later. So I was like okay this dude is, and he also followed #Wait but Why on Twitter, he only follows like 50 people on Twitter. I was like okay!
Tim: He’s aware of the blog, officially aware of this blog. It was crazy. It was very exciting and terrifying. And I really didn’t consider that things would go beyond that. I was, you know, people were saying oh you should like reach out and I was like no I’m not going to reach to him, that’s like the great way to get him to stop paying attention because he’s annoyed another person’s trying to like. But then, he reached out, which was shocking. And super exciting. His, his head of messaging, you know, got me on the phone and said, you know, #Elon likes your stuff, he was wondering if you wanted to maybe do some writing projects involved with his industries. And you know, I said yeah definitely. I’m like, you know, not just because he’s #Elon, I really am interested in those industries. I would have done that anyway. And then she said okay well, you know, maybe we could set up a call for you and him next week. Really not what you expect to hear, expect her to say in that situation
Nick: No, that’s incredible
Tim: And even then I expect the call to be, you know, he, okay, so I, you know, it’s, it’s him and a few assistants and he’s on the phone for 5 minutes, introduces himself, says hi, says he likes my stuff and then he leaves. And, you know, and then I talked to the assistants to figure out the real plan. That was what I was picturing, and it was just not how he operates. I learned now that he is not one of these people that has a bunch of handlers. He’s really, he runs his own show. And then has like a couple key employees. But like he, he’s in charge of everything that’s happening. And so, so it was just him on the phone when he called. And then we talked for an hour! And, and, and so we kind of came out of that call with the plan that I would write, I would write, you know, a post or series of posts about his industries on #Wait but Why, and I would try to tell the full accurate story. Because that, I think is the problem for him is that his, his stuff is so new. The reason that Tesla’s important, that’s a new concept in the world. The reason that #SpaceX wants to go to Mars, that’s a really new concept in the world. And, and I think that his frustration is that without a full deep dive into this, you know, first movers in a new thing, they have two jobs. They have to, they have to build a business like everyone else and they have to innovate and develop all the new technology. But then they also have to teach the world about the industry, the world that this is something that matters. That’s a, that’s the first mover’s job, you know. And, and, you, often that comes along with either the mission where it fails because they kind of clear the way and then someone else comes zipping by, or the first mover has a powerful marketing team. And #Elon despises marketing and advertising. So what, but, and, and because it’s again it’s shallow, he, he knows in order to understand these missions someone has to explain them for a bunch of hours. Like you almost need to take a course on them to really get it. And he doesn’t have the time to do that, nor the, the platform. Like, he, and , and in interviews he has, if he has, you know, a minute for every question is not going to, he’s not going to be able to talk for 4 hours.
Tim: And, and so I think that was appealing to him because he read the AI posts and he said that, that this guy is really thorough and really gets into it and that’s what, that’s what he wanted. So, so I did that. I wrote 4 posts, a total of 95,000 words. And the, the I recorded the audio book for one of them, the longest one on #SpaceX, which was 4 hours. So that tells me if I extrapolate that the whole thing will be about 10 hours. So it, the, the, in order to really , for #Elon to have explained what I explained there, he would have had to have a 10 hour interview with just him talking. So that’s why I think it was important to him. That’s why I got a lot of access to him and his staff and his, you know, executives at the #SpaceX and #Tesla factory and also he was hugely available to me well during the process. Like if I wanted to get on the phone to because I wracked up some questions, he made it happen that week. And he kind of would give me as long as I needed. It was really like an amazing opportunity. It was super fun and hard. I mean, it was a real challenge. I get why he’s, his world is so difficult with messaging, because it was a real challenge to try to like articulate why these things matter. And that’s why the post ended up so long because I had so many things, so much background to explain. But yeah, it was great.
Nick: Yeah, with some of these people that are so far ahead, it’s, it’s hard to get it, to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. I mean, clearly I did not understand the, the scope and the impact of #SpaceX until I read the article on your site and then got sucked into, you know, all these other great pieces that you put together. But, you know, on this
Tim: I didn’t, I didn’t either. I learned, I learned everything, you know, in those articles from, from my research. I was shocked at how much there was to say about those companies.
Nick: So if we take a second to dive into this #SpaceX article, #Elon Musk’s mission has been to put a million people on Mars. And, you know, some people think that’s an admirable goal. I think the majority of the population thinks he’s crazy. But after reading through your article, you start out by talking about the nature of extinction events, and you introduce that well by presenting a bet between two aliens, Zurple and Quignee, on the planet Uvuvuwu. Can you talk us through the bet and why they are making it?
Tim: Yeah. So I also thought #Elon was crazy. I mean, that’s everyone’s instinct when you find out. Because first you hear oh #SpaceX is a cool company, it’s a private space company. He’s, you know, the first to turn their, you know, other than the three huge countries, like the first private space company to do X, Y and Z, you know. And , and then you find out when you start to learn more, that what they really want to do their goal is to go to Mars. And suddenly I was like oh is this like a scientology like weird thing going on here? I got like disappointed. I was like damn it I thought they were so awesome. And they’re all, they’re actually just kind of like crack pots who happen to be good at this. That, and I think a lot of people that’s their first instinct, because they don’t know him very well and they don’t know, you know, and they hear that he, he’s an, an eccentric billionaire and that’s what they, that’s what their mind assumes.
Tim: And, and as I read about it, I, I started to, it’s like I started to do the full 180 like the big veil got lifted and I started to realize that no they’re being the only rational ones and everyone else here is like in a short sighted delusional bubble. And that was a real epiphany that took a lot of reading and understanding to get to. And so I said okay if, I, I need, you, you can’t write a #SpaceX article without making sure that everyone else gets what I know get about that. And so I thought about what’s the vehicle I can use to explain why #Elon so badly wants to get a million people on Mars. And the first thing is that I had to kind of wrap my head around and then explain is that it’s, it’s doable. Because I think some people think this is all so obviously never going to happen. But actually it is doable. The technology is not out of reach. And, and actually there’s like a pretty clear game plan for how it will happen at #SpaceX. So I was like okay so first I just, you know, what, you know, it has to be clear that this is, this is doable. Secondly, there’s the big why. When there’s so many problems on earth, why are we trying to go to Mars? It’s such a like a ridiculous, frivolous thing. It’s cool, of course it will be fun to have someone on Mars. But it’s not important.
Tim: And so I had to explain why it is important. And so to that the, the , the what I decided to use is, is yeah the two aliens who I thought made very cute drawings of, and, and the concept is that, you know, you have to pull yourself away from the earth and imagine that you’re looking at the earth from afar. And so I said okay, so these two aliens are, are, are, are, they’re, they’re super intelligent. They’re much smarter than we are. They have surveillance of all these planets all around the galaxy and they know everything thats going on. And they, they, and one of these two particular aliens, they like to make bets with each other. One of their hobbies is watching, you know emerging intelligent species. And so I, I basically I talked about how, you know, first I introduced that, that, that they had, one of them said oh look! you know, on, on that planet, and they have some other name for earth. On that planet they, they have a, the top intelligent species there has reached intelligence but they’ve reached a very special point right now. And so they make a big bet, or, or back, sorry, back when they, reached humans first reached intelligence, they were like oh there is an intelligent species has been born on this planet, let’s bet on whether they will make it or not, okay. So they make a big bet on whether one of them is rooting for humanity to make it, the other one is rooting for humanity to not make it. And what make it means in this case, is, is in my imagination is you develop incredible technology which allows you to kind of conquer your mortality, your, the species is, is, is each individual in the species now can kind of choose when they want to die. That species itself can choose, you know, it, it won’t ever need to go extinct. And they, they’re now kind of joined. They’ve joined the super intelligent species of the galaxy which probably has some congress and they have hangouts and , you know, when we’re way too primitive we were like an animal, we’re like a farm, you know, a zoo somewhere, we’re way too primitive to be able to understand them. Just like a , a chicken couldn’t join like a human society, we can’t yet join their society. But we’re on our way. And the question is there is some big moment that happens for every intelligent species which is they either as, as they try to move up their technology, you know, or something kills them before they’ve, they’ve become invincible. Or they make it past. So then I talked about there’s a bunch of natural extinction events that this could, that could wipe out humans. From an asteroid, from something biological , you know, some kind of epidemic, to many many other things that I kind of went through, weird gamma ray things, other things. And then, much more scary though, because those things are on a pretty long time scale. At least it’s unlikely to happen now. I mean there’s been 5 extinction events. Any of which might have probably killed humans. And there’s, there’s going to be 5 more of them in the next, you know 600 million years. So that’s a long time. What’s much scarier, in the next 100 years we might develop technology like some kind of biological weapon like some kind of you know bomb of epic proportions, or most likely I would say artificial intelligence that has this power that we humans have never had before. It gives humans power and you can use that power perhaps to kill all of humans to go extinct. Or, you know, the AI is out of our hands and then we all go extinct. And, and it’s almost like when we get to this level of technology humans are like a kid playing with a bomb. And it’s like we don’t know what we’re doing. And the technology starts to get out of our hands. And then it just, we’re just too fragile and it wipes us out. So this is what their bet is on. And what I said is it’s, it’s right about now that after a hundred thousand years of watching their bet unfold, because they bet on this when the humans were first intelligent, you know, when humans first came around. Suddenly right about now they are leaning in. They are focussed, they are watching because their bet is about to you know, be, be revealed here. And what I kind of said is that they’ve, the alien who’s rooting against humanity, if you’re rooting against humanity in that situation you think okay what, what you’re happy about is all their eggs are in one basket, they’re all on this one planet. Something goes wrong in that planet and they’re going to die. Would you really not want that to happen, you really don’t want them to spread out. Now they’re on two planets and there’s lots of them on both planets. Because think about it, if you’re rooting against a species, well now you have to kill, now they have to die on both planets. Now like if, it’s, it’s terrible for your bet. It’s much less likely that you’re going to get rid of the species now that they’ve, they’ve divided.
Nick: Right. This is the backing up the, backing up the hard drive analogy
Tim: Yeah. It’s like a, it’s like a hard drive. And you, if you have a really important document on the, you know, a mass extinction event is like the hard drive crashing, you know. You drop it in the water and by the time you, you get it back, 95% of the files are gone which are like species being gone. And so if you think about it that way, there’s one file we really don’t want to lose which is the humanity file. What do you do? You, you, hard drives by the way this hard drive has a history of crashing, the one we’re currently on. And it’s extinction events. And so what do you do? You back up the, you back up the file obviously. You take that file and you put it, you , you back it up onto a second hard drive obviously. That’s what #Elon and #SpaceX are trying to do. They’re trying to back up the humanity hard drive right about now since things are getting pretty out of our hands with technology. And then an asteroid still also could come any day. Let’s back this up, so, so the, what he, the way he says so the light of human consciousness could go on for a long long time. So it won’t be extinguished way before we would like it to be. And then we get deep into that thought process. Suddenly you’re like oh my god, #SpaceX you’re the only rational company. Knowing, and then you look back at all the politicians that you agreed with earlier who say we have all these problems here on earth, you know, why are we going to worry about something like Mars? Well you know what that sounds like to me? That sounds like a human now saying I have all these bills to pay, I’ll worry about my health later. We’ll we’ll go to the hospital later. Right now let’s worry about these bills. It’s hugely short sighted. If you take a big big step back, if you’re those two aliens, the guy who’s rooting against humanity he loves those politicians. He’s saying yes, yes, yes, focus on your little things, focus on your problems on earth, don’t worry about the big thing. And the other guy is saying come on, come on #SpaceX, get them onto Mars, get them on. Right, so, I, you know, I can get very deep into this. And once you do, it makes a lot more sense and then you really get why #Elon is so smart.
Nick: Yeah. I’m not sure most folks and, and me included, understood the number and the magnitude of extinction events that have already occurred on earth.
Nick: and are going to occur again.
Tim: Absolutely. And, and, and we are really going to create our, create our own extinction event. Like it’s very likely. I mean, it’s, at least it’s not, It’s a lot more likely to happen in the next 100 years than any kind of natural thing. Like it’s, we’re, our technology is really getting intense. And it’s going to get really intense in the next 50 years. And eventually you can just, it can be too powerful, it can just, it can , one thing can go wrong, right now one thing can go wrong with technology and it can crash the stock market or maybe wipe out a grid. Something like that. Or, you know, something can you know that huge explosion in China that we saw last year. That was like this Chinese bomb, and that was something with technology gone wrong. But it had a lot of power. So it really messed a lot of stuff up. Well, as the technology grows in power like a thousand fold or a hundred thousand fold over the next hundred years, which is what it’s on track to do with the exponential increase. Suddenly you don’t have an explosion that ruins a village or a disaster that knocked out the stock market, you have something that wipes out humanity. And it’s really not that big a stretch at that point. So that’s, that’s what’s scary here. And, and, and eventually, you know, the technology, you, you get good enough at the technology is integrated into our brains and we’re super smart and it’s on our side and we now figure out how to help it work for us, make us immortal. And we, we’ve backed up our, our own consciousness to hard drives, each person has and there’s, you know, I could go and on. And now we’re, now we’re safe. We’ve, we’ve, “made it”. You know that’s what the other guys rooting for. Now, the, now once you get there, now there’s nothing that can harm us because we’re too smart, we’ve figured out all the ways to self protect and to back, back ourselves up a million times. And, and
Nick: And hope that their talent was good enough and now the product is suffering for it. To put a million people on Mars, the, the next part of the article and, and the thought process is the how. So how could we do this, you know, in a cost effective manner? And you talk about this and, and #Elon is focused on a will and a way. Can you talk about how this led him to the mission of revolutionizing the cost of space travel?
Tim: Right. So the reason he wants to put a million people on Mars is he’s just thinking orders of magnitude. So he thinks like ten thousand, hundred thousand, million, ten million, where do we hit that order of magnitude. Where now he thinks that, that , that’s a self sustaining civilization. Meaning you, you’re not self sustaining on Mars until the earth could blow up, and everything on there is gone. And you’re fine and not only can a million people survive but they can thrive, they can grow, that can, that can turn into it’s own seven billion person population. They can terraform the planet, meaning they can actually build an atmosphere. It can, they can pump in oxygen, they can make it like Earth. They can trap heat, they can make it pleasant to be outside, you can breathe. I mean, that takes a while but then, then, this is the plan. So if, if, if it’s not on it’s way on it’s own to doing that, it’s not yet self sustaining. It still needs Earth. And so he estimates that number happen. If you get to about a million people you now have enough where you can kind of probably make it there without Earth’s help. So how do you do that? So, the way he looks at it is, it’s, he, he’s think if it like, he doesn’t want to persuade anyone to do anything. If I want to start a store selling stuff, I don’t want to have to persuade people to , you know, it’s good for the world to buy my product or you should do this because , no! you want to create a product that they want badly enough that they’ll pay for it. And they’ll pay for with money they can afford. If the product a million bucks most people, doesn’t matter how much they want it, they’re not customers of yours. So #Elon’s thing is he thinks there has to be , there has to be enough people. A million , at least million people who both A- want to go to Mars and B- can afford to go to Mars, okay. So that’s the Venn diagram, and that little middle area,
Tim: the overlap of those two things has to reach a million people and that’s the equation. If that happens, there’s a million people on Mars.
Nick: They got to have the means and they got to have the, the desire to go, right?
Tim: Exactly. So he thinks, and I kind of think too, that, that the desire will take care of itself if the other thing happens. Because if the other thing happens, you actually have people going. You have reality TV shows being made on Mars that are huge on Earth. You have people writing books about their experience and of course, he wants to make the trip round trip. So he wants to rocket back either way. So everyone’s going to come, you know, have it, you’re going to book yourself two things when you go. You’ll say, I’m, I have a ticket to Mars in 2028 and I have, I got myself on the first open return seat, which is 2036. So I’m going for 8 years, for example. And you’re booked, that’s it. You’re, you’re, you’re coming back 8 years later or whatever. And so when , he thinks that when, you know, when that starts to happen and becomes this adventure just like, you know, he didn’t have to convince people to come to the, the new world from Europe. There’s economic opportunity, there is, you know, you can, you can go there and, and, you can come back and write a book about your experience. You can go there just for the adventure, just like people want to travel now. There’s the biggest mountain in the whole solar system there which makes Everest look like a little rock. There’s the biggest canyon that makes the grand canyon look like a little, you know, paper cup. So he thinks, you know, and I kind of agree, I think a million people is actually still only one in 7000 people. I think it’s not going to be a problem if the price is right. So as far as getting people to Mars, we already have that technology. For enough money NASA can do it.
Tim: #SpaceX is very very close, #SpaceX probably in a year. #SpaceX announced that in 2018 they’re going to be taking the manned capital without people in it to Mars just to deliver cargo to kind of test it out.
Tim: Almost definitely nothings going to go wrong there. Meaning they could bring a person in 2 years. They could probably do it now if all the regulations were passed. And, and the person could get out in their space suit and walk around, be the #Neil Armstrong of Mars, get back in the thing, and take off and come back. So the technology is there but it would, it would be expensive and you know, even in the Bush Senior term back in, in the late 80s, he was told by NASA they could get people on Mars, it’s just going to cost $500 billion per seat for astronauts. So $500B per seat. Now what #Elon wants to do, oh sorry $500B for the trip, which is a $100B per seat. And of course he’s
Nick: Way too crazy
Tim: No. And , and he’s , no, and the fact is when we did the Apollo mission that was outrageously expensive. It’s just that we’re in a race for survival, with the Soviet Union. So we spent 4 1/2 % of our budget on that, which is something we could never get away with today, no way. That was an outrageous thing. People actually felt like we, our survival was at risk. So without that kind of thing, and probably that will never happen again with some thing like that. And, where the US needs to get there for survival. Maybe it will be a race up to get to Mars. But without that there’s no way that that was going to happen for a $100B per astronaut. Because, you know, the thing could take 5 astronauts to space. So #Elon think to get a million people there he needs to get the price per seat down from a hundred billion to five hundred thousand. That’s a lot less. That’s two hundred thousand times less money. And so NASA at this point, or NASA at least in the Bush Junior administration said it was now a tenth, they could do it for a tenth. They could do it for 50 billion for 10 billion a seat. Okay so now it’s only 20,000 if you go from 10 billion to half a million. #Elon by the way thinks he could actually get it down to more like a 100,000. So he thinks he can actually get it down to a 100,000 which is a hundred thousand of the ten billion it was supposed to be for NASA
Nick: Wow, overlap on the Venn diagram, it’s much bigger at that point
Tim: Oh yeah. I mean, we’re, yeah the point is if the, if it’s 10 billion a seat, you’re going to have the other circle as big as you want but the, the people who can afford it circle is about 2. And that’s not going to work. You need the people who can afford it circle to be, you know, hundreds of millions so that one of those millions is, is the, you know, also wants to go. But you know half a million sounds like a lot but you could pay it off like a mortgage. Anybody who can afford a half million dollar house, which is like, you know for example, most of the American middle class. That is suddenly, you know, a lot of people in the world can afford that. So, so anyways, he but what he wants to do in order to do that is two things. The first thing is just these rockets are built in the 60s. I mean think about a computer in the 60s. It took up a whole room of MIT. And now we have iphones. So we’re still using the computer that takes up the room at MIT equivalent when it comes to rockets. We’re using actual rockets developed in the 60s or engines a lot of the time, or stuff that has the same technology. And a lot of times these big companies are risk averse you know, and they are, they are locked in their old ways because they don’t want to innovate and they don’t have much incentive to innovate.
Tim: So, what, what #SpaceX is doing is they’re apple building the iPhone for example. You know, they’re saying okay, you know, we’re just going to start from first reason from first principles here and not look about the, not look at the past other than trying to learn what we can from it. But we’re not going to be attached to anything from the past or the way things are. And we’re going to try to go build it from scratch. And so they, they just by building a new fresh rocket made for 2016, a falcon 9, and now soon the Falcon Heavy, they’ve already reduced the cost. It costs one sixth the money to take a, a kilogram of payload to space to orbit as it does for NASA to do it right now through Boeing and a sixth. The Falcon Heavy will be a sixth. And he wants to get that down to a tenth. So right away you’ve already cut it down by ten.
Tim: by just, just by better technology. The next big game changer is that he wants to have a huge ass rocket that can take over a 100 people. So instead of taking 5 people you take a 100. That reduces the cost by about another 20. But the biggest one, the, that you, you still, you know, you’re still at, you know over a 100 times too expensive, even when you, you know, you’ve reduced it there by 200. That’s 20 times ten there. Remember we need to get it down by 200,000 or at least by 20,000. So, you know, if we now have to get it down by another 100, so how do we do that? Well, you could do that by making rockets re-usable. Picture airplanes, every time an airplane flies, it’s done. It flies it’s maiden and only voyage, people get off and the plane is scrapped. You want to fly again, a new plane is built. It would cost you a billion dollars for a coach seat. It would not be an industry at all. It would be something that, that governments and billionaires do. And which is by the way who does space right now- governments and billionaires.
Nick: That’s a great analogy. I mean, could you imagine every commercial aircraft, you know, one use, you get one use out of it, that’s it?
Tim: Yeah. Governments and billionaires. Which is who, which is who flies in space right now. #Richard Branson, #Elon Musk and governments. I mean, that’s, that’s what it’s for, you know. It’s, it’s governments and billionaires. There’s #Jeff Bezos, that’s literally that’s not, not just billionaires by the way. Like people who are worth ten billion. Even normal billionaires can’t even afford this and they wouldn’t be able to really afford air travel either. So
Nick: A handful of people on the planet
Tim: Right. That’s it