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SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, says this is the year that he'll unveil his plan for getting human colonists to Mars, as well as his 21st-century design for spacesuits.
Those are just a couple of the tidbits from a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat session he conducted on the eve of an ambitious SpaceX Falcon 9 launch — an effort that will involve trying to land the rocket's first stage on a floating ocean platform.
The 43-year-old Musk is the CEO and chief designer for the SpaceX rocket company as well as the CEO of Tesla Motors, an electric car maker; and chairman of SolarCity, a solar power venture. In his spare time he's come up with a concept for rapid transit known as the Hyperloop, and has voiced concern about the rise of artificial intelligence.
Musk is revered as a rock star among the technorati, who share a large swath of a Venn diagram with Reddit users. More than 6,200 comments were registered during Monday night's hour-plus session, and Musk could answer only 26 questions. Here's a sampling:
- Why does Musk say there's just a 50-50 chance that Tuesday's landing maneuver will work? "I pretty much made that up. I have no idea :)"
- How would the Falcon 9 would be secured onto the deck of its autonomous spaceport drone ship? "Mostly gravity. The center of gravity is pretty low for the booster, as all the engines and residual propellant is at the bottom. We are going to weld steel shoes over the landing feet as a precautionary measure."
- What's the status of Musk's plan to send colonists to Mars? "The Mars transport system will be a completely new architecture. Am hoping to present that towards the end of this year. Good thing we didn't do it sooner, as we have learned a huge amount from Falcon and Dragon."
- What about Musk's plans for a SpaceX spacesuit? "Our spacesuit design is finally coming together and will also be unveiled later this year. We are putting a lot of effort into design aesthetics, not just utility. It needs to both look like a 21st-century spacesuit and work well. Really difficult to achieve both."
- How much should we worry about an A.I. apocalypse? "The timeframe is not immediate, but we should be concerned. There needs to be a lot more work on A.I. safety. And, with all due respect to the Roomba dude, that is not a concern. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of2HU3LGdbo "
- How does Musk learns technical subjects so quickly? "I do kinda feel like my head is full! My context switching penalty is high and my process isolation is not what it used to be. Frankly, though, I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying. One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to."
- What daily habit does Musk believe has the largest positive impact on his life? "Showering."
In other news, Musk says he sleeps an average of six hours a night. And he thinks that the Kerbal Space Program simulation software is "awesome" — in fact, he joked that SpaceX uses KSP for testing software. That's another feather in the cap for the developers of Kerbal Space Program, which was honored as NBC News' Geek Gift of the Year in 2013.
An earlier version of this story didn't make fully clear that the reference to KSP was lighthearted.