The man who sold the Mars trip. You’ve got to hand it to Elon Musk. Equal parts engineer, huckster, and visionary, he has mastered the art of setting mad goals and then ushering them towards mundane reality. Tuesday he unveiled how he plans to take humanity to Mars: with a really big, reusable rocket (Quartz). One that’s refuelable, both in earth orbit and at its Martian destination. One that will carry 100 passengers to the Red Planet, at $500,000 a seat — $200,000 if enough people sign up! The whole project will cost $10 billion, Musk estimates, with characteristic optimism. To his credit, he has both the self-awareness to poke fun at his ambition with an underpants-gnome joke, and the honesty to admit that the effort will be crazily dangerous for the foreseeable future. (“Are you prepared to die? Then, if that’s ok, you’re a candidate for going.”) Like the protagonist of some old Heinlein or Asimov novel, Musk makes the case that we must become a “multiplanetary” species, with a backup home as insurance against catastrophe. Fifty years ago, such stirring challenges trumpeted from presidents, but today they come from our billionaire CEOs. Whether Musk delivers or not, his investments will kickstart a community with expertise in solving the problems of planetary explanation, one that will outlast any individual venture’s life span.
Amazon is eating the world. At the dawn of the Web two decades ago, Amazon cornered the online book market by providing the most comprehensive, useful catalog and the best customer service. Since then, the company has gradually swallowed up lots of other markets using the same strategy — to the point where today, one new survey says, more than half of U.S. consumers start any and every online product search at Amazon’s site (Bloomberg). Anything that can be put in a box and dropped on a doorstep, you get from Amazon. This has huge implications, not just for the future of Big Retail (looking at you, Walmart and Target), but for the fate of Google, too. It also means that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will most likely have an even bigger war chest than Elon Musk to fund his dreams of space travel.Read More