When you announce a 42-engine interplanetary spaceship that you intend to name Heart of Gold in homage to Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” you deserve to be subjected to a little Vogon poetry from the audience.
That’s more or less what happened to Elon Musk when he unveiled his long-awaited Mars colonization plan Tuesday at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then endured questions from an unusually large and rambunctious audience that hours before poured into the main hall like they were there for The Who’s 1979 tour.
Standing in for Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz — the bureaucratic alien bard who unwittingly saved hitchhikers Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect from perishing along with the Earth — was a cavalcade of characters who improbably were given the mic for various odd rants and requests occasionally phrased as questions.
Here are five of the weirdest:
1. Burning Man guy has a burning question
Burning Man: Right here. Hi Elon! Right here, right here.
[unintelligible speech]. Okay, great. It’s very nice to meet you. My name is Aldo, and three weeks ago, I was at Burning Man in the Nevada desert, right, and it felt like I was on Mars. It was a dusty storm, and it was really cold at night, and there was no water. But there was one problem with Burning Man: With a population of only 75,000, there was a lot of sh*t, and there was no water to take it into the rivers, which is kind of what we do today in our current sanitation system, so I was like, “Is this what Mars is going to be like – just a dusty, waterless sh*tstorm?” So I was like, “hey Elon, are you working on a sustainable sanitation? Are we gonna have [a] toilet in Mars that doesn’t use water?” Today on Earth, there is [sic] three billion people that don’t have access –
Musk: – Guys, [unintelligible], I actually have to say, we have to keep it – no essays, only questions.
Burning: Alright, So, are you working on a toilet for Mars?
Musk: Yeah, it, I think, Mars actually has a huge amount of water in water ice, so I don’t think we’ll really, suffer a water shortage on Mars. The main thing about Mars is actually gonna be energy. If you have energy, there’s plenty of water because there’s, there’s massive amounts of ice, so, it’s really just about getting huge numbers of solar panels out there and potentially doing geothermal energy, and, you know, ultimately, I think, assuming the public is receptive, we, you know, there might be nuclear. I think certainly if you’d built nuclear on Mars, as whether you transport nuclear to Mars would be, you know, kind of up to the public to decide.
2. Good-luck kiss lady
Lara: Hey. Hello, I’m Lara – back here, Elon.
Musk: Man, it’s really hard to figure out where the disembodied voice is coming from.
Lara: Like I was, I wanted to ask you, like, for some normal people like me, what would it take physically do you need some requirements or something to get to Mars?
Musk: Sorry, I can’t hear you.
Lara: Yeah, like, if normal people want to travel to Mars, do we need some specific requirements, or do normal people can go there?
Musk: No, I mean, we’re trying to make it such that anyone could go.
Lara: That, yeah, but, you know, do we need, like, a lot of training or something special
Musk: Nope, nope. Maybe a few days of training.
Lara: Yeah, also.
Musk: I mean –
Lara: — also
Musk: –train more if you want.
Lara: I wanted to ask you, and, on behalf of all the ladies, can I go upstairs and give you a kiss, a good-luck kiss?
Musk: Sounds, sounds, Sounds great. I don’t have them here, but I appreciate, thank you, appreciate the thought.
3. Want to come out and see my bus guy
Alphonso: Hello, Elon. My name is Alphonso. I think what you presented today is just incredible, but I want to change the topic. I have a startup which makes electric public transport buses…
Musk: Space questions only, sorry.
Alphonso: Oh sorry, the thing is I just have my prototype outside and it would be awesome if you could go out and see it. It’s a 30-ton electric bus.
Musk: Great. Space questons, this is the IAC so we’re, space questions only.
4. Funny or Die guy has a serious proposal
Funny or Die Guy: Cool. Hey Elon! Can’t wait for the SpaceX Improbability Drive. Looking forward to that, but you often talk about wanting to inspire the masses and kind of push technology forward for conquest, and I’m developing a series with Funny or Die which is like the top online comedy site founded by Will Ferrell, and it’s
Musk: Questions, not essays!
Funny or Die Guy: Yeah, yeah, quick question. So, it’s about you sending someone to Mars, but kinda like that first monkey that got shot into space, they’re never coming back. It’s gonna be a one-way trip. So –
Musk: — not necessarily.
Funny or Die Guy: Well, maybe.
So, you mathematically determine the world’s most expendable human being to make the journey, and that’s Michael Cera. So, wanted to see if this is like a project that you might have any interest in supporting. Funny or Die just drove 31 million views to a like Hillary Clinton-Zach Galifianakis video a few days ago.
Random Audience Member: Stop.
Funny or Die Guy: I want to see if you were able to talk about that after.
Musk: I think it’s pretty important to give people the option of returning. Like, the number of people who would be willing to move to Mars is much greater if much greater if they know they have the option of returning, even if they never actually return. I mean, most of the people who went to the original English colonies in North America, they never returned to Europe even once. But, for, some did, and just knowing that, if you don’t like it there, that you can come back, I think makes a big difference in people’s willingness to, to go there in the first place.
And, in any case, we need the space ship back, so it’s go- it’s coming. You can jump on board or not. It’s cool. You get a free return trip, if you want.
5. Dick Rocket, aka Comic Book Guy
Dick Rocket: Hey, hey Elon! Dick Rocket from NewSpace Global, you’re the best! Everybody give it up for Elon, please! This guy inspires the sh*t out of us. Come on! I’ve got a gift for you. It’s a comic book called “The Future of Fusion.” It’s about the first man on Mars.
Rocket: It’s like you. I can’t get past El Chapo’s militia though. So I don’t know, should I just throw this onto the stage?
Rocket: My question is, can I give you this gift?
Musk: Um, sure, if you hand it, yeah.
Rocket: The future of fusion. Thank you sir.
Musk: Alright, thank you.
#fusk!!!!! @elonfusk @comedustwithus pic.twitter.com/RHKnJjTlxS
— Dick Rocket (@RocketFn) September 27, 2016
Here’s one of the few on-topic questions Musk was asked, courtesy of SpaceNews’ Jeff Foust:
And here’s a sampling of the social media reaction to the weirdness IAC let happen instead of letting space professionals and journalists kick the tires on Musk’s latest super ambitious proposal:
After this #SpaceX open Q&A, I wouldn’t be surprised if @elonmusk gets in his ship to Mars and never comes back.
— Eden Golshani (@edeng) September 27, 2016
Our future in space depends on Elon Musk surviving this idiotic Q&A session.
— Andrew Mayne (@AndrewMayne) September 27, 2016
@elonmusk is really reconsidering saving humanity after some of these questions at the #IAC2016 Q&A
— Matthew Singer (@Singer_Matthew) September 27, 2016
@SpaceX After that one question during the Q&A, I think another funding option is an @elonmusk kissing booth.
— Katrina Parra (@SpaceLawGeek) September 27, 2016
NO YOU CAN’T KISS ELON MUSK. YOU CAN ASK QUESTIONS RELATED TO MARS COLONIZATION. Good lord, is this press conference in a Hard Rock cafe?
— Anthony Carboni (@acarboni) September 27, 2016