Moore’s Law is a product of Silicon Valley, as is the tendency to misapply—with overreaching drama—it to various capital-P Problems. The September, 2013, issue of Time featured a cover story raising the tantalizing question “Can Google Solve Death?” And yet people are still turning up dead. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced a $3 billion effort “to rid world of major diseases by end of century.” Contrast that with the National Institutes of Health’s annual budget of more than $30 billion (about 2.5 trillion through 2099), with no such promise of ending ailments for all. Musk estimates that it will cost $10 billion to reach Mars. Every time NASA has pondered manned missions to the planet, the price has been several times the $150 billion (more or less) spent on the Apollo program to the moon and back. Not every problem has convenient engineering solutions.
Vision without funding is hallucination. Mars is not a how problem, it is a why problem. I grow weary of pretty pictures of rockets. Musk has done the easy part of sketching the obvious destination. The hard part is why—why pay for it? And that has been on hold for decades. Musk’s rocket blueprints put us no closer today than we were half a century ago.