I think it's quite likely that we'd want to bioengineer new organisms that are better suited to living on Mars. Humanity's kinda done that over time by selective breeding - Ya know, cows didn't evolve in the wild - but that's a very slow process that requires hundreds of generations whereas, I think with actual bioengineering we could make that happen a lot faster and maybe with more precision. Ideally, long term - although this is a tricky subject - you'd want to write generics. Meaning, you'd want to create synthetics organisms. Not necessarily completely but, ya know, start with some base and modify stuff.
[Question about research into the long term effects of spaceflight.] I think the verdict is in with respect to long term existing in space. Really, mostly about zero-g. In my opinion, certainly enough to get to Mars. Mars is, if you have a low energy trajectory, like a minimum energy trajectory is about 6 months. I think that can be compressed down to about 3 months, and it gets exponentially harder as you go lower than that - 3 to 4. It's important to actually be at that level because then you can send your spaceship to Mars and then bring it back on the same orbital synchronization. Earth and Mars synch up every two years and then they're only kinda in synch for about 6 months. Then, ya know, they're really too far apart. So you've got to be able to go there and back in one go. That's important for making the cost of traveling to Mars an affordable amount. Because, if you think of what's the key thing to establish a colony on Mars, it's the cost per unit mass of sending something to Mars, or the cost per person. At a certain level, if it's too high, obviously there won't be such a thing, but once it gets to a certain level - it's like a reaction, the activation energy is like the economic activation energy of a Martian colony. I mean, right now it's like - I don't know, the last NASA estimate was $500 billion, and that was during Bush the first. So, I would imagine that today's estimate is a trillion. We're not going to go spend a trillion dollars on sending four people to Mars. Right now the cost of going to Mars is beyond what can be afforded, so that's why no-one is going to Mars. Ultimately, in order to establish a colony I think you've got to get the cost down to maybe half a million or less, per person. There's got to be an intersection of sets of people that can afford to go and people that want to go.
[When did you decide to do this?] When I was in college, I tried to think what are the things that are going to most affect the future of humanity and I wanted to be involved in at least some of those things. I didn't expect to be involved in all of them, but mostly I just wanted to be involved in things that I thought would matter to the future and to be able to look back and say, okay, I did something useful there.
[Did you have any role models?] I wouldn't say there was any one particular role model. There was certainly many people that I admired in history. Tesla obviously being one of them. I think it stems from when I had this existentialist crisis when I was a kid and tried to figure out, what's it all about, and none of the books I read seem to actually have a good answer. I read all the religious texts and I read a bunch of philosophy books and they were all quite depressing - particularly the Germans. Actually, when I read The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, I thought this is a pretty good one. Just, sort of, to create greater enlightenment over time, that seemed like a good goal. If you don't really know what the meaning of life is, or even really what the right questions are to ask, but if we can improve our understanding of the universe then eventually we can figure out what the right questions to ask is. That's not the meaning of life but it's something.