Why You Might Want To Consider Saving For A Ticket To Mars
Here’s a bizarre scenario. Imagine opening an investment account with a fairly conservative portfolio of index funds tracking the market, fees of less than 1%, and meant to grow to between $300,000 and a million dollars or so. But instead of investing in your retirement, that money will buy you a single ticket, not to a resort, a retirement community, or big trip around the globe to stop at every wonder of the world or notable landmark. No, you’re going a lot farther than that. Your next stop will be the Moon, or Mars, or in the farther future, maybe even the outer solar system. You will be paying to live out a science fiction fantasy to tech tycoons wth big rockets.
With SpaceX thinking about sending people to Mars for $500,000 within a few decades, then lowering the cost to that of a modest suburban house in the Midwest, having a decent shot at moving to another world doesn’t seem completely out of reach, financially speaking. And with Bezos trying to nip at Musk’s heels, there’s going to be a lot of pressure for him to keep his end of this promise once his Interplanetary Transport System is operational and ready for its maiden voyage. In response, some enterprising financial types opened space travel funds to excited clients. Should you join them?
On the one hand, if there’s no stipulation that this money must be used for space travel and only space travel, there’s not much risk in saving money so it can grow for the future. Worst case scenario, if you manage your finances wisely and conservatively, you’ll have a lot of extra cash for retirement. But there are two major caveats to consider before you open your Mars Or Bust account. The first is that all we don’t know exactly when an interplanetary mass transit system will be ready. Until we see prototypes flying, it’s simply too hard to tell. The second is that you’ll need to keep your completely and totally understandable excitement in check, and think long term.
While there seems to be more than enough interest and financial viability to building interplanetary transport ships, the technology we have is still in its embryonic stages. Unlike software which can be tested a thousand times in the span of a year, a rocket capable of lifting 300 metric tons into orbit with a safety record similar to flying on a commercial airplane has to be built at great expense, and launched again and again until it proves its worth, then more rockets need to be built and launched until they’re flown enough for a team of experts to certify them as safe, because launching passengers with no special training in such early stages is unethical and bad business.
After that, enough professionally trained crews will need to be transported to the Moon and Mars without incident to accumulate a track record good enough for civilians to finally buy tickets, train, and fly. There will be snags in manufacturing, bugs in the code, and even accidents, and hopefully the knowledge we’ve accumulated since the Space Race will make those fewer and farther between. None of this will be a problem in the long run; often times it’s a good idea to break your prototypes to understand exactly what forces are at work and how much you can push your creations.
But all this will take a long time, possibly 30 or 40 years, and depending on how old you are, and the effectiveness of anti-aging treatments as we learn how to replace organs with machines and harness genetic engineering to get a handle on cancers and other degenerative diseases, whether you’ll ever be able to cash in these accounts is an open question. At the end of the day, it’s entirely possible that you’ll end up putting that money in a trust and leave it as an inheritance to one of your children or grandchildren: a ticket to what will be the dawn of a new age of human exploration.
But what about those who couldn’t afford to save hundreds of thousands of dollars but desperately want to go? Do we just leave them trapped on Earth until they scrounge the money? Well, we don’t have to. In fact, considering that the costs in question compare to typical mortgages today, it seems very plausible that banks could lend them the price of the tickets. Since they will have to work in space because we’ll need every profession critical to keep a society functioning, they’ll be able to afford to pay it all off while their new world exports high tech knowhow back to Earth for licensing. Meanwhile, a chunk of their disposable income could go to fund their children’s trips.
It would be a beautiful legacy well within reach for millions of people, and depending on education and healthcare policies over the next few decades, this might even be rather common for the middle class. (Musk has stated it was his goal to make space exploration an affordable proposition during his unveiling of the ITS concept.) Imagine generations really able to settle wild alien terrain in their day jobs and return to that primal, explorer lifestyle so many of us seem to be craving after the industrial world trapped millions of us in gray, ugly-as-sin cubicles. If we play our cards right, future explorers are now walking among us and learning their ABCs…