This piece was originally written for UCLA Anderson, as such I made it a little hammy in place and drop in a few of the business school's taglines, such as "Think in the Next". While the talk was a bit wacky, I did genuinely find it interesting and a very engaging experience.
Stephen Petranek – Out of this world
Coming to Anderson I had long anticipated TED Week @UCLA. Having watched dozens of TED talks and podcasts over the years, with their mantra of “Ideas worth spreading” and the passion with which each speaker takes to the stage, I signed up for a talk and panel discussion titled “Out of this World” by Stephen Petranek. I was excited to see what we were in store for with this Partnership to Advance Ideas.
Billed as a Technology Forecaster, I knew little about Stephen or his background, and with spring quarter in full swing didn’t have a chance to read the preface to the talk. Finding space in the Executive dinner room at Anderson, transformed for Ted week, with all purple spotlights, bean bag chairs and cloth drapes UCLA could muster. I sat back a wait for the talk to begin.
“500 years ago Christopher Columbus sailed across an ocean and changed the world. We’re on the verge of another great age of discover.....We're going to Mars”…. And so it began, for the next forty minutes I was engrossed. From duel stage rocket boosters to the “MOXIE” oxygen conversion machines we will needed when setting up our first colonies. With Stephen’s guidance I found myself mentally planning out each step of my very own mission to Mars, such is the power of a great TedTalk!
The talk’s premise was clear, exploration is in our DNA. Some of our greatest advances have come about from discovering the world around us. In much the same way JFK inspired a generation to dream and reach for the Moon in the 60’s, the same would be true for the exploration of Mars. A mission to Mars would be the catalyst for a new golden age as we push to become a two planet species. Petranek, as only some with the title “Technology Forecaster” could, went further; Not only were we as humans born to explore our solar system, it would happen far quicker than most of us could ever imagine possible. He confidently stated “I guarantee some of your children will end up living there!”
Some of Stephen’s quick facts on the Red planet:
- It’s the 4th planet from the Sun, about half the size of Earth, with 38% of the gravity
- The average temperature is around -81F, with an atmosphere 95% CO2
- A Martian day is 24hours and 39min long
- Mars is 100 times further away than the moon, that’s about 25 million miles
Not going to be easy
As Stephen went through his list of Red plant factoids, I couldn’t help feeling he didn’t really need to follow up by stating “This isn’t going to be easy”. Of the 44 rockets man has sent to Mars only about 1/3 have successfully reached the forth planet from the Sun. Missions have only a short launch window, with planetary orbits aligning just once every two years. And even then you looking at a 240 day one-way journey. A long time stuck in what amount to little more than a glorified tin can.
So who’s going to make this happen? Step forward
Tony Sparks Elon Musk and SpaceX. Elon’s penciled in 2025 for the first Mars landings and already has designs on the first Mars colonizers; Stephen’s prudently pointed out that Musk might be a little optimistic, stating 2027 was a little more realistic.
Straight out of Sci-Fi
But why stop there. Taking a lead from the Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic Total Recall, what’s to stop us terraforming a whole darn plant. Let’s turn the Red planet Green. Take one, albeit very large, solar sail and focus the sun’s rays on Mars’ poles. The resulting warming will, over a 20 year period, melt the planets ice and release water vapor to thicken the Martian atmosphere. You’ll create your very own greenhouse effect. Yes, it will rain and it will snow....such is the power of human enterprise, we can transform a planets!
Our Forecaster finished his talk with a predictions that some 50k people may live on Mars by 2050. In much the same way Jamestown, Virginia and the Eastern states of the America were colonized some 300+ years ago, the same will be true of Mars. Mars “Colonizers” could travel there by the dozen, Human’s would become a two planet species. Enterprising individuals would open restaurants, sell extraterrestrial excursions and mine ore to become Mars’ first millionaires. No doubt our speaker claimed - “Some idiot will start a reality TV show”
Advancing Ideas Panel
Following the talk we we’re treated to a panel discussion featuring , ,, with our own chairing the discussion. Tackling the big questions on everything from why on Earth would you want to go? What about interplanetary communication, and uhum…. sex in a spacesuit. Among the back and forth there was however one point of consensus among our panel of experts….. Technically speaking while challenging, and financially while expensive, life on Mars certainly more than a possibe!!!
Like many of the best TED podcasts and YouTube videos I’ve seen in the past, Stephen and the panel got me exciting in an idea. While I’m not sure whether I’ll be queuing up to pay my $500,000 for a ticket on one of the first Mars Colonizer, I won’t be as quick to dismiss something as impossible. For me that is the true power of a TEDTalk, to embrace an ideas, challenge convention and think big. For want of a better phrase to Think in the Next.