Off To Mars

My compliments to Elon Musk – Tesla, Inc. CEO, SpaceX chief executive and all-around entrepreneur. He’s a most remarkable visionary. His recent address to the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, announcing his intention to begin spaceship construction within nine months, with regular flights of cargo and crews to Mars commencing within the next several years, certainly attracted attention. His conception of establishing a self-sustaining colony of at least a million people on the planet, thereby making humans a multi-planetary species is inspiring.

You might note, persons who choose to live on the Red Planet will find it somewhat less inviting than the French Rivera … or the island of Tahiti. Being that it’s some 48 million miles farther from the sun than Earth, it’s a good bit cooler. With temperatures ranging from a high of about the freezing point of water to lows approaching −200°F, it’s considerably less hospitable than our South Pole, where the all-time record low on June 23, 1982, reached only −117°F. Obviously, Mars is not a place you’ll enjoy leisurely Sunday strolls. For that matter, since its thin atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, you’ll not find it very breathable either. Exactly how the inhabitants Mr. Musk envisions will reside there can possibly function … or what they’ll do for a living … somehow escapes me.

Despite the challenges, the Mars project may thrive as well as Tesla. How a company which never produced a commercially viable vehicle, nor earned a dime in net revenue, propelled itself into the automotive forefront is a tribute to exalted promotion – a Musk specialty. Most certainly government, with its granting of credits and preferences is the key to this achievement, with non-emission vehicles having joined the list of government-subsidized programs. As Amtrak and the United States Postal Service demonstrate, a losing operation can drag on unprofitably for years, subject only to political considerations.

To survive, both Tesla and the Mars undertaking must at some point actually generate a profit. Humbug can only exist on public relations hype and contrived obsession for so long. It must ultimately produce a saleable product before the public loses its fascination.  As the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared, “Eventually you run out of other peoples’ money.”

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues a monthly newsletter in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it on

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