As it turns out, there’s one little known fact about Elon Musk — he’s way into basket weaving. Apparently, the SpaceX, PayPal, Tesla founder and world-changing genius has been big into the weaving game tracing all the way back to his days as a youth in South Africa. We had a chance to sit down with Musk recently in the hopes of talking about space exploration, colonizing Mars, and artificial intelligence, among other things.
MS: Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview, Elon.
MUSK: Of course.
MS: So the Falcon Heavy is obviously a pretty remarkable spacecraft and a step towards landing astronauts on Mars. How far off do you think we are from achieving that goal?
MUSK: I’m not too concerned with competing in small satellite launches, so I think we have a clear objective. My sole concern is getting humans to Mars. In order to actually pull this off, we’re going to need a large rocket ship taking off from Earth to Mars — large enough to support what will amount to multiple months in space under optimal conditions — or a large rocket that can shuttle many spaceship parts into Earth’s orbit, assemble there, and then fuel and crew the newly assembled ship to leave for Mars.
MS: The degree of difficulty sounds astronomical.
MUSK: Yes, but it’s doable. It’s sort of like basket weaving. You have coiled basketry, plaiting basketry, twining basketry, wicker or splint basketry. The point is, there are many ways to get this done.
MS: So what’s that timeline looking like?
MUSK: It’s going to take a ship larger than the Falcon Heavy. To do this, the vessel will need to be about 350 feet tall and weigh about 4,400 tons, which will be composed of two main parts — a 190-foot-tall, 3,200-ton first-stage booster section; and a 157-foot-tall, 30 feet in diameter, 1,200-ton spaceship on top of it. Conceivably, we could transport an entire team of colonists all the way to Mars in relative comfort with those dimensions. Look, we’re not making a wicker basket here. This is a very new type of basket we’re trying to weave, so it’s gonna take some time. How long exactly? I really can’t say yet. It’s just too early to tell.
MS: At the moment, Mars is inhospitable. What would you do to enable colonization?
MUSK: Again, we have options. The biggest problem is the frigid surface temperatures. It’s possible to heat the planet with thermonuclear blasts on the poles. That’s the quick way. There are longer approaches that can get the job done, as well. I’m more of a fan of the long approach. Same thing when I weave. I like to create the base, the side walls, and then the rim. The lid, the handle, and all the other embellishments go on once the shape of the basket is formed.
MS: What fascinates you so much about space exploration? What drives this inextinguishable fire?
MUSK: When I was young, I worked hard because I wanted time freedom. I knew that if I made money, I’d have options and be able to spend my days how I wanted to. Paypal was initially the answer. Then it snowballed and before I knew it my success swallowed me whole. Truth is, SpaceX and my other ventures are really accidents. All I wanted initially was to become financially secure enough that I could go live somewhere remote, weaving baskets till the end of my days.
MS: Interesting. Surely, you’re proud of everything you’ve accomplished?
MUSK: Sure. It’s not satisfying, though. There’s no soul in artificial intelligence or space exploration. It’s just a thing to do. When I think back to the proudest moments of my life, it all comes around to basketry — my first time weaving a basket from Swamp Ash, or making a Seri basket. Ah, the feel of limberbush in my hands. That’s what I miss.
MS: So this whole time, everything you’ve done was basically just so you could pursue basket weaving full-time?
MS: And it all just snowballed and your companies have taken over your life.
MS: Do you want to talk about anything besides basket weaving.
MUSK: Not really.