The SpaceX CEO received a blow to his plans to send humans to the Red Planet when the Starship SN9 prototype crashed and exploded after its first high-altitude test flight last week. Mr Musk hopes to one day produce 1,000 spaceships to blast off from Earth, each carrying roughly 100 tonnes of equipment, as well as 100 people in the hope of building a permanent settlement on Mars. He previously outlined his plan, which would see a one-million-strong population in space by 2050, but admitted he had concerns over its feasibility during the 2020 Mars Society Virtual Convention.
He said: “The acid test really is if the ships from Earth stop coming for any reason, does Mars die out?
“If it does we’re not in a secure place, I mean I think this really might come down to the Great Filter front.”
“Are we going to be able to create a self-sustaining city on Mars before or after World War 3?
Mr Musk made reference to the Great Filter theory – the concept that originates from Professor Robin Hanson’s argument that somewhere along the trajectory of life’s development, there are massive and common challenges that end life before it becomes widespread in the universe.
Speaking during a TedTalk in 2014, Prof Hanson said: “The universe is vast, dark, cold, empty and dead. Everywhere we have ever looked, it is all completely dead.
“If you saw aliens out there you might be scared of them, you might wonder what they would do to you.
“You should be more scared that you see no aliens, you see absolutely nothing.
“Something out there is killing everything, and you are next.”
He explained the basis of the theory.
Prof Hanson added: “We start at the beginning – dead things look different from living things – civilisation looks different from dead planets.
“This is the deepest view we have of the universe, looking billions of lightyears back.
“In this view and every view we have seen of the universe, everything we see is explainable by all things being completely dead.
“All we’ve ever seen is dead matter. That should scare you.”
But the research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University believes it is unlikely the universe has always been this way.
He added: “We see billions of planets that have had 13 billion years to do something.
“If civilisation started 12 billion years after the beginning of the Earth, they’ve had a billion years to do something we can see.
“That means there is a Great Filter which stands between ordinary dead matter becoming an expanding civilisation.”
He concluded by highlighting some of the issues we could face in the future.
He said: “So planets start out, the first filter is if they can evolve life – most can’t.
“Those that can, can they evolve to multicellular life like we are? Of those, can they build a civilisation, like we are now?
“But past that, there is the filter of whether they can go on to colonise the universe. Of the planets we can see, none have succeeded. There must be a huge obstacle.
“In the future, there are filters that should concern us.
“Maybe we will be hit by an asteroid, an earthquake, a pandemic, or a war. Maybe robots could rise and destroy us or maybe it’s just impossible to make starships.”