Elon Musk proposed nuking Mars last night on Colbert

“You’re a supervillain.”
“You’re a supervillain.”
Image: CBS/YouTube
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Elon Musk: Space visionary. Energy innovator. Galactic supervillain?

The billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors appeared on the second episode of Stephen Colbert’s Late Show last night (Sept. 9) to discuss his various business ventures. Colbert asked him about his plan to send people to Mars, which Musk described as a “fixer-up” of a planet. That led to this exchange:

“Eventually you can transform Mars into an Earthlike planet,” Musk said. “By warming it up.”

“With a blanket?” Colbert asked.

No, Stephen, not with a blanket. With a great number of thermonuclear bombs:

Musk has publicly supported this idea for a long time, but we’d wager it’s the first time anyone’s suggested it on a late-night talk show. The idea is that the nukes would melt the Mars’ polar ice caps and kickstart a greenhouse effect—similar to the one we’re currently experiencing on Earth—that would quickly make the planet warmer.

Here’s famous physicist and futurist Michio Kaku giving a quick explanation:

There is some skepticism in the scientific community that nuking Mars would actually make it more hospitable. First, there’s the possibility that all the liquid water created as a result of the bombs would simply freeze again, leaving us right where we started. Second, it may not be a fantastic idea to introduce hundreds (or possibly thousands) of nuclear bombs worth of radiation into the Martian atmosphere. Even if that succeeded in warming the planet, the resulting radiation could make it inhospitable all over again.

What’s perhaps more notable than Musk revealing this plan on TV is the fact that Musk appeared on Colbert at all. Musk would have fit right in on Colbert’s previous show, Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report (in fact, he did), but entrepreneurs and tech titans aren’t typical guests on traditional late night network shows, like Colbert’s new gig at CBS. But Stephen Colbert is proving that he’s not going to be a typical late-night host, and Elon Musk is certainly not your typical entrepreneur.