Friday, March 23, 2012

Apple can Terraform Mars

I'm not crazy, just optimistic.

As all internet people know, Apple Incorporated has a lot of money. And they're making a lot more money. Every day they make more money than you will (probably) make in your lifetime. They have so much money they're actually a little bit embarrassed about it. They have so much money that I think they quite honestly don't know what to do with it other than save it for a rainy day. At the last conference call Apple had $97.6 billion in cash and cash equivalents. But... you might say... didn't they just announce that they are going to spend all their cash? Well, sort of.

They announced a quarterly dividend of $2.65/share, with 932.4 million shares outstanding, this amounts to $2.47 billion or about 1/4 of their expected profits for coming quarters. They also announced that they will initiate a $10 billion share repurchase. But the share repurchase doesn't start until September 2013; by which time they will have accumulated more than an additional $10 billion, assuming current rates. What does this mean? It means the stockpile is only going to grow given current trends. A number of great ideas have been offered as to what Apple should do with their money: buy other companies, Bill Gates scale philanthropy, further vertical integration. I would like to propose a different idea:

Mr. Cook...

meet Mr. Musk

Mr. Musk is (arguably) the most successful entrepreneur on the planet. The co-founder of Paypal and Solar City (of which he is also currently chairman), the founder, CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Motors and the founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. Mr Musk's stated goal is to make human life multiplanetary, and terraforming Mars is our only real (no really!) option to make that happen right now. I think, that Musk might just be able to do it. 60 Minutes interviewer Scott Pelley recently said "‎Only four entities have launched a space capsule into orbit and successfully brought it back to the earth: the United States, Russia, China and Elon Musk" which I think goes some distance to show that the man knows what he's doing. When he first looked at space, he realized rockets were way too expensive. So he formed SpaceX and built his own. For 1/8th the cost of the competition. And then he built a bigger rocket, and a space capsule that can carry people but thus far has only carried cheese, SPACE cheese.

Musk's planned Falcon Heavy rocket can launch stuff into low earth orbit for $1000/lb. An order of magnitude cheaper than the competition. Unfortunately it's going to take a lot of pounds to terraform Mars. And when I say "a lot" I mean "the mass of a thousand nuclear reactors" kind of a lot. Also getting to Mars is rather trickier than getting to low earth orbit. But Musk thinks he can get the cost down to $500,000 a person (maybe with the help of his latest rocket idea) which means he thinks he can get the cost of transport to Mars down to about $2,000/lb.

$97.6billion/($2,000/lb) =4.88 million pounds. That might get you a few reactors.

Obviously there are other daunting hurdles both regulatory (getting FAA permission to launch Plutonium anyone?) and technical (pre-launch, orbital, or Martian reactor assembly?, how do you get it down?) obviously even $100 Billion won't finish the job. But keep in mind Apple's earnings approximate a growing perpetuity so they will continue to make more money.

Apple will die one day, all companies do. But if they really want to leave a mark on technology before they kick the bucket, I can't think of one that would be more monumental than this.

Can Apple and Elon do it? Probably not. But what if it they can?