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Why Elon Musk's LA Tunnel Is Really About Colonizing Mars

Chris McAndrew, @cbmcandrew
02.06.17
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Burrowing below LA traffic is one of the more popular side gigs of the tech world these days thanks to one guy. Elon Musk has gone so far as highlight 'Tunnels" as one of his interests on twitter and has announced plans to start digging from SpaceX's headquarters soon.
Despite how great it would be to skip LA traffic, a tunnel has practical applications to achieving SpaceX's stated mission to colonize Mars.

Mars is a brutal planet. In addition to being cold, the surface of Mars is also exposed to 300x the radiation limit for people in the US.

There are ways to limit radiation expsosure of course. As NASA eloquently puts it:

"There are two ways to shield from these higher-energy particles and their secondary radiation: use a lot more mass of traditional spacecraft materials, or use more efficient shielding materials.
The sheer volume of material surrounding a structure would absorb the energetic particles and their associated secondary particle radiation before they could reach the astronauts. However, using sheer bulk to protect astronauts would be prohibitively expensive, since more mass means more fuel required to launch."


Because radiation can get inside of things, and mess up everything from DNA in your cells to instruments in your Mar residence, avoiding it is key.

NASA's recommendation to shield things with sheer volume of material becomes available once you land on the red planet. The surface of Mars may not be our preferred material for planting food, but as a dense shield from cosmic radiation it will do the trick.

Once SpaceX lands on Mars the next step to building a civilization will be providing the infrastructure to become self-sustaining. That means rebuilding all of the fundamental technologies that we take for granted. People will need a place to work without worrying about being eaten by outbursts of cancer every few months.

A City On Mars Will Need Subterranean Utilities - And Maybe Even Housing.

If you are going to build a subterranean city on a different planet, The Boring Company sure would be a good thing to be invested in!

Tesla is more or less a power company at this point, especially now that SolarCity is a part of it. The latest promo videos for the company tout the substation power packs it has installed in Southern California as "the utility grid of the future".

Hyperloop is going to be about transportation. That might be limited for the time being to the a small area in the desert but ultimately the energy efficiency and speed gains of Hyperloop pods will help spread out the residents of an early Mars colony.

The rise of automation, especially as it applies to the control of machines, will also be crucial to efficiently commoditizing the resources of Mars. Localized decision-making extends the capabilities of any autonomous mission. Consider the latency delays of communicating with Mars, which is nearly 20 minutes to Earth, and it becomes clear how important AI will be to the colonization efforts. Enter OpenAI – the other organization that Musk splits time with.

Just as Elon's other companies are thinly veiled utility services, the Boring Company may just be the vision of the interplanetary mining industry. Not to mention it's a solid way to get a little bit more NASA funding, since they .

This is not just about avoiding traffic and building a bunch of rockets (while he is, but not just that), he is also building infrastructure. The global shipping industry should be thankful that we do not see oceans on Mars, or you better believe Tesla Shipping would be a thing to.

SpaceX certainly has the technical talent to build a tunneling machine but optimizing and powering it will be key. A test track designed to ultimately cut down LA traffic is a great way to justify and subsidize the development of tunneling technology in the same way that shuttling satellites into Orbit for NASA helps fund the rest of SpaceX.

If there is a huge frozen ocean under the surface of Mars, as evidence suggests, then getting access to it solves a major issue for interplanetary settles. Humans require water, it's a fact, so any chance of becoming self-sustaining on another planet hinge on the ability to access or produce water.

Musk has been quoted as saying "better tunneling tech improves everything: road, subway, Hyperloop", but what he forgot to include is "...and the chance of colonizing Mars."
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