Last week Elon Musk announced a new plan for getting people to Mars — and a clearer idea of how SpaceX would make money at it.
As the New York Times reports, “The key is a new rocket — smaller than the one he described at a conference in Mexico last year but still bigger than anything ever launched — and a new spaceship.”
But it was a specific aspect of his vision that reminded me of the potential, promise, and reality of telehealth…
Mr. Musk’s Mars vision is interesting and almost unbelievable. (And, indeed, may not be practical, but time will tell.) “For Mars colonists, the rocket would lift a spaceship with 40 cabins, and with two to three people per cabin, it would carry about 100 people per flight. After launching, the B.F.R. booster would return to the launching pad; the spaceship would continue to orbit, where it would refill its tanks of methane and oxygen propellant before embarking on the monthslong journey to Mars.”
What is even more fascinating to me, however, is Mr. Musk’s vision for using the reusable rocket here on earth.
Because the rockets are reusable and because they travel up to 18,000 miles per hour, the rockets could take off to the atmosphere, and then come down in, say, Shanghai. Any two points on earth would be less than an hour apart. And, in fact, he says that the cost of a ticket would be cheaper than an economy ticket on a plane today. (He didn’t mention the leg room, but I’ll assume it’s better!)
When you watch the BFR “Earth to Earth” video, imagining the idea that you could get to Shanghai in 39 minutes, or from New York to Paris in 30, you start to wonder how our world would change if we could connect to each other so easily, so quickly. You think about how our understanding and empathy of other cultures might grow. You think about how new ways of practicing business, medicine, and art might emerge. How we might work and live differently, better. And you wonder -- if I could go to any country in the world before lunchtime, what would I do with that ability to connect? If I had the power to connect across the world, how would I use it?
The truth, of course, is that you have that power now.
Mr. Musk’s vision is big, and it’s encouraging to know that entrepreneurs with big visions are working towards new futures. But the truth is that in the palm of our hands, we have tiny computers that let us collaborate with medical colleagues in any corner of the world, even in a HIPAA-safe way, for a cost that is tiny. The reality is that telehealth now allows us to connect with patients and people across the spectrum of care in ways we couldn’t, even 20 years ago.
What will you do with that power?