Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity, stands out from other tech billionaires because he isn’t just talking about saving the planet, but actually taking steps to do it with electric cars and batteries, and plans for a human colony on Mars. But when someone starts talking about using nuclear bombs for terraforming, you’ve got to ask if they’ve tripped across some line from hero to villain, like Ozymandias from Watchmen.
Yet that’s exactly what Musk said, during an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show. The segment, which you can see for yourself below, starts off with Colbert comparing Musk to Tony Stark, Iron Man from the Marvel universe.
Musk starts off tamely enough, saying only that he’s “trying to do good things.” They then talked about the Tesla “power arm”, a snakelike charger that automatically moves to connect a Tesla to a power source, to recharge the car’s battery.
Things took a turn for the unexpected when the discussion moved to Musk’s idea of establishing a colony on Mars. Colbert used the word uninhabitable, and Musk quickly corrected him, saying, “it’s very inhospitable.”
He also admitted that while initially you might need atmospheric domes, terraforming Mars could make it more habitable, describing it as a “fixer-upper of a planet”.
“At first, you’re going to have to live in transparent domes, but eventually, you can transport Mars into an Earth-like planet,” Musk said.
“Just warm it up. There’s a fast way, and the slow way,” he added. “The fast way is just drop thermonuclear weapons on the poles.”
Colbert then summed up what everyone was thinking, as he exclaimed, “You’re a super-villain, that’s what the villain does!”
The slow way, which Colbert did not want to find out more about, involves warming up Mars to melt frozen carbon dioxide, which will in turn make the atmosphere of the Red Planet thicker. Doing that makes the planet even warmer; and the process can continue in a cycle until it reaches an equilibrium point. Of course, that’s a very slow process, but would nuking the planet be enough to make it “Earthlike”.
The average temperature on Mars is similar to that of Antarctica in the winter, said Brian Toon, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who co-wrote a paper in 1991 about making the Red Planet habitable, told the Los Angeles Times.
“It seems possible to make it earthlike, but there’s a lot of barriers to overcome,” Toon said to the LA Times. “Blowing up bombs is not a good one.”