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SpaceX's Elon Musk on why we must make life multiplanetary [video]

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Establishing on other planets the organisms that evolved on Earth is as big and important as any of the major transitions that life has yet experienced, argues billionaire libertarian Elon Musk.

SpaceX capsule on Mars

Elon Musk, billionaire founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and NASA-contracted heavy lift rocket maker SpaceX thinks that establishing on other planets the organisms that evolved on Earth is as big and important as any of the major transitions that life has yet experienced.

Multicellular life, the move onto land, the evolution of mammals, the invention of consciousness -- these are the events in life's history that Musk puts on par with spraying nearby planets with our interplanetary panspermic seed.

Musk told reporters at the National Press Club today:

"I would argue also on that scale should fit life becoming multiplanetary. And in fact I think, [after] consciousness, it's the next step. You really kind of need consciousness to design vehicles that can transport life over hundreds of millions of miles of irradiated space to an environment that they did not evolve to exist in."

That will require sending along all the support systems life requires, he notes, since there is nothing in our solar system that is as habitable to life as Earth, and the nearest extrasolar planet, which is 4 light years away, would take 10,000 years to reach with today's rockets.

SpaceX is betting that its Falcon Heavy rocket could get us to Mars

"I think that if someone could make a reasonable argument that something is important enough to fit on the scale of evolution, then it's important, and maybe worth a little bit of our resources. If it were something like a quarter of a percent of the GDP, that would be OK. I think most people woulds say, OK, that's not too bad."

With a U.S. GDP of around $14.5 trillion, 0.25 percent of our GDP would give Musk a "modest" sum of $36.5 billion a year to play with in his quest to get us to Mars.

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Christopher Mims

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Christopher Mims has written for Scientific American, WIRED, Popular Science, Fast Company, Good, Discover, Slate, Technology Review, Nature and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Formerly, he was an editor at Scientific American, Grist and Seed. He is based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure