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Elon Musk Needs 10,000+ Missiles to Nuke Mars. 'No Problem,' He Says

Popular Mechanics logo Popular Mechanics 5/19/2020 Caroline Delbert
Elon Musk standing in front of water: Elon Musk's ambitious "Nuke Mars" plan could require at least 10,000 nuclear missiles. No problem, he says. It's a long shot, but here's how Musk could do it. © JIM WATSON - Getty Images Elon Musk's ambitious "Nuke Mars" plan could require at least 10,000 nuclear missiles. No problem, he says. It's a long shot, but here's how Musk could do it.

Elon Musk is making waves after agreeing with an analysis that his plans to terraform Mars would require 10,000 maximum payload nuclear missiles based on today’s technology.

Musk was prompted by a Twitter user who shared a Russian News Agency TASS article where a Russian space official called SpaceX’s Mars terraforming plans into question.

“For example, for a thermonuclear explosion on Mars’ pole, one of the plans of SpaceX, to have tangible results, more than 10,000 launches of missiles that can carry the largest payloads and are being developed now are needed,” that official said in an interview.

The state media outlet concluded, “According to the Roscosmos executive director, humanity does not have the capacity to influence in any tangible way Mars’ or Venus’ climate.”

Keen-eyed observers know that Musk hears this kind of feedback as a challenge, for better or worse—and indeed, he replied, “No problem.”

Musk has pushed “Nuke Mars” for long enough that it’s become kind of a meme, but could he really deliver 10,000 high payload nuclear missiles all the way to Mars? That would be most of the entire world’s supply of nuclear warheads, period, which currently stands at 13,355. Just over 12,000 of those belong to the U.S. and Russia alone.

So ... just where would Musk get 10,000 nukes?

There are legal issues with just regular people making nuclear weapons—heck, there are legal issues with global superpowers making nuclear weapons—but with a persuasive plan and some scientific backing, Musk could persuade world powers to apply nuclear missiles to a specific mission to terraform Mars, in the same way we could win the lottery. (Technically it’s true.) Musk could try to leverage a permit to allow him to make them. But this all seems wildly implausible.

But let’s say Musk does manage to wrangle up 10,000 nuclear missiles. Then he’d need to carry them to Mars on his aspiring fleet of 1,000 Starships.

By blasting both poles of Mars with pulsing nuclear missiles, Musk wants to make tiny artificial suns that will warm the planet and induce an Earthlike atmosphere.

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Terraforming is far off even within Musk’s portfolio of outlandish-sounding moonshot projects. Getting to Mars, and even staying there for a while, won’t require terraforming. But Musk’s goal has long been to put people on Mars to live, and that idea would mean a radical overhaul of the whole planet.

Mars has what NASA calls “striking” similarities to Earth. Without a protective atmosphere, the rest of the similarities are moot—but if an atmosphere were the only missing piece, the similarities could again count in Mars’s favor.

Musk has a lot on his plate right now. If he’s really scheming to begin building nuclear missiles, that project will have to get in line.

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