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HomeSelf ImprovementFirst, Go Underground? – The Weblog of Writer Tim Ferriss

First, Go Underground? – The Weblog of Writer Tim Ferriss


True coloration picture of Mars taken by the OSIRIS instrument on the ESA Rosetta spacecraft throughout its February 2007 flyby of the planet.

Earlier than we dwell on Mars, will we have to show that we are able to dwell underground?

This thought experiment and doable path is present in futurist Amy Webb‘s (@amywebb) new guide The Genesis Machine: Our Quest to Rewrite Life within the Age of Artificial Biology, coauthored with microbiologist and geneticist Andrew Hessel. Famend laptop scientist Rana el Kaliouby describes the guide as a “roadmap for this interdisciplinary area of artificial biology that’s endlessly reshaping life as we all know it.” 

Half Three of the guide explores completely different futures within the type of fictional, speculative eventualities.

These eventualities describe how the world might develop, given what we all know to be true as we speak. These are near-term believable developments, cheap extensions of present development strains, not sci-fi. They’re additionally alternatives to rehearse the longer term, and these structured thought workout routines are utilized by everybody from navy strategists to CEOs. 

Situation #4, “The Underground,” is excerpted from The Genesis Machine with permission and with gentle edits for size.

Please take pleasure in! 

The Underground

For many years, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, had been insisting that humanity’s finest shot at long-term survival was to finally turn out to be a multiplanetary species. He cited elevated ranges of carbon pooling within the Earth’s ambiance, excessive droughts, and the lack of biodiversity as precursors to a looming disaster. He started improvement on a program referred to as Starship in 2016, which was meant to ferry cargo and, finally, 100 passengers between the Earth, Moon, and Mars. By 2021, NASA contracted SpaceX to develop a modified Starship car for its Artemis program. Musk targeted on constructing the core infrastructure that may finally be required to maintain life, whether or not on Earth or on the Moon, Mars, and even past. However Musk realized he couldn’t construct an off-planet dwelling atmosphere on his personal. Ever the showman, and together with his private fortune approaching $1 trillion, Musk introduced an audacious contest referred to as the Colony Prize. He’d award $1 billion to any workforce that would construct and function an underground, hermetic colony of 100 folks for 2 years. In different phrases, the last word Mars simulation.1,2,3

Musk knew that for people to thrive off-planet, regenerative programs would have to be developed at a scale by no means earlier than achieved.4 The Worldwide Area Station as soon as housed as many as 13 astronauts on board, however sometimes solely six or seven lived within the ISS without delay. Colonists additionally wanted to grapple with lengthy intervals of confinement. The standard ISS mission was about six months.5 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly had spent almost a yr in area. Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov held the report for a single mission, spending a powerful 437 days on the Mir station within the Nineteen Nineties.6 A greater instance for understanding a hundred-person enclosed society was a submarine––however even right here the longest submerged and unsupported mission topped out at 111 days.7 Profitable the Colony Prize would require retaining the doorways sealed tight for greater than 700 days.

The competition guidelines had been easy by design. Entrants had been to outfit and assemble hermetic canisters right into a closed dwelling atmosphere. These canisters, which might start as empty, modular self-contained areas that may match into the cargo bay of a rocket, might be configured as dwelling quarters, science labs, farms, colleges, water therapy programs, manufacturing amenities, and something thought of essential to assist a group. Colonies had been inspired to incorporate amenities to assist concert events, sports activities, and different types of recreation.8 As soon as configured and loaded with provides, the doorways can be sealed and the mission clock began. The objective wasn’t to reinvent Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. It was to invent fully new networks of modular buildings—utilizing one thing akin to the Minneapolis Skyway System, the world’s largest contiguous system of enclosed buildings and bridges—that would scale to finally turn out to be a metropolis. Over time, such a plan would replicate some points of life within the days earlier than excessive climate grew to become our new regular.

Along with container reconfiguration plans and simulations, contest entrants had been instructed to submit an inventory of potential colony inhabitants, justification for his or her choice, and an in depth plan to make sure high quality of life. There was an necessary caveat: the colony couldn’t simply be made up of a bunch of carefree early twenty-somethings who, again within the halcyon days of the aughts, might need attended Coachella. Each colony needed to mirror the complete spectrum of society: a mixture of households, {couples} with out kids and single folks. The prize was meant, partially, to check inhabitants enlargement in a closed system. That meant that amenities to handle being pregnant, supply, and toddler care, in addition to numerous well being points and the varied levels of life, needed to be constructed.9

There have been no necessities or quotas to make sure range of thought, ideology, race, ethnicity, nationality, or tradition. Nor had been there stipulations to stop sure folks from being excluded from a colony. If a bunch might show in simulation that its plan might assist life for 2 years, and if they may clarify how inhabitants would work, attend faculty, obtain medical consideration, domesticate assets, and keep stability inside the colony, they’d be eligible to advance.

Chosen groups would have eleven years to construct, refine, and dwell inside their buildings. Within the occasion of a system failure or must make main modifications to a configuration, any colony was allowed to reset the clock and begin once more, offered that they had sufficient time remaining inside the eleven-year restrict.10 There was no restrict to what number of colonies might win the $1 billion award on profitable completion.

Colonies would obtain assist from Musk’s numerous corporations—SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Firm (his tunnel and underground infrastructure firm), Chia (the energy-efficient blockchain and sensible transaction platform), NovoFarm (an indoor, precision agriculture firm), Neuralink (the implantable brain-machine interface firm), and Programmable Matter (maker of supplies that may shape-shift to answer the atmosphere or person enter).11,12,13 Feasibility research and infrastructure pathfinders had been accomplished, so an important side was location: future Mars colonies would have to be constructed underground. Mars lacks a magnetic area and radiation ranges on the floor are dangerously excessive. The floor is chilly. Constructing underground would supply radiation shielding and thermal insulation.14,15,16

Tunnels can be made by The Boring Firm. Its automated Prufrock V machines might “porpoise,” that means they might be launched from the floor, tunnel underground at a charge of just about one mile a day, after which floor after completion. Tesla produced stainless-steel cylinders that match neatly into these tunnels. They had been like delivery containers, besides that they had been formed like canisters of Pringles chips and had electrical drive programs so they may transfer slowly underneath their very own energy. The inside of the canisters might be personalized to accommodate nearly something, resembling personal quarters, hydroponic farms, or surgical amenities. They may function independently for a brief interval, however they’d sometimes be linked collectively to kind extra complicated programs, probably the most easy configuration being a series, like a subway prepare. Tesla additionally constructed photo voltaic and battery programs, whereas SpaceX dealt with transportation and communications with its Starlink satellites. The businesses had put in programs on the moon underneath its contract with NASA. Colonies would have loads of electrical energy and bandwidth.

Colony Prize groups had been allowed to make use of this analysis to assist their designs. Digital plans, fashions, and specs had been out there on-line, and empty canisters had been out there for buy from Tesla for $250,000 every. The large problem for groups can be placing collectively, populating, and working full programs.

Musk made it clear, in his directions to these vying for the Colony Prize, that ambition can be rewarded:

The objective is to create liveable locations not simply to dwell however dwell effectively. Construct the colony the place you and your loved ones can thrive, with the correct of individuals, and contemplate the way it may proceed to develop to turn out to be totally self-sustaining.

Colonists had been required to self-fund their plans, together with paying the salaries of these growing the colony and salaries for the colonists themselves. The $1 billion prize for profitable colonies can be used to reimburse traders, pay out bonuses, and probably fund additional enlargement. Musk believed that this mannequin would incentivize and promote cooperation amongst numerous colonies, which might create a flywheel for innovation and speed up a space-based economic system, plus present real-world expertise on governance and operations.

The sheer magnitude of the prize—together with the climate on the floor [of Earth], which had turn out to be extraordinarily disagreeable—catalyzed an unlimited world funding in closed dwelling system R&D. The one instance that got here shut was by then fifty years previous: the Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona, which accomplished building in 1991.17 Initially meant to display the viability of closed ecological programs, Biosphere 2 was in the end plagued with issues. Too little meals, poor oxygen circulation, and an influence wrestle over the mission’s administration and administration doomed the experiment. Nobody since had tried to combine the large progress that had occurred since then in vertical farming, manufacturing, sensor programs, and biotech into one other closed system.

Whereas there have been tens of 1000’s of purposes, solely 180 proposals handed the preliminary rounds of filtering. They got here from North America, Western Europe, United Korea, China, and India in what grew to become often called colony-forming items, or CFUs. Getting began required that CFUs produce detailed plans and fashions for water regeneration, biofoundries, medical therapy, oxygen technology, and carbon seize. Doing so required actual ingenuity and in depth computer-aided modeling. In the end, seventy-two CFUs had constructed expert groups and secured land for his or her colony and floor operations. All of them had secured sufficient funding—starting from authorities grants to funding from personal corporations to checks written by rich donors—to start constructing.

Tesla started delivery 1000’s of canisters and energy programs to colonies, which included such different locales as Bloomington, Indiana, and Humboldt, Iowa; Dalmeny, Saskatchewan, and Edmonton, Alberta (Canada); Hwaseong (United Korea); Beizhen and Dadongzhen (China); Harda (India); Rumuruti (Kenya); and Knutsho (Norway). Together with companions, groups started customizing canisters and linking them collectively to kind what, from a distance, might be mistaken for high-tech hamster enclosures, setting them up on the floor first and testing them extensively in preparation for shifting underground.

Whereas the prize guidelines didn’t restrict the variety of awards, it did set strict efficiency milestones. To fulfill milestones, colonies needed to engineer microbes, together with micro organism, that enabled crops to fertilize themselves. Sustainable indoor farms, which included climate-controlled environments, cloud-based AI programs, agricultural sensors, and collaborative robotics, had been required to show they may keep secure ranges of diet, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and hydration. Groups additionally needed to design, construct, check, and deploy DIY vaccines and therapies to handle any novel pathogen which may come up within the enclosed atmosphere. Auxiliary merchandise meant for on a regular basis use—resembling clever packaging manufactured from polymers that successfully self-destruct or “unzip” when uncovered to gentle, warmth, or acid—had been needed to fulfill stringent waste administration standards.

At first, the groups struggled to fulfill their milestones. Making a sustainable canister for one household to outlive for a couple of years was arduous sufficient. Scaling it to a whole group, and having some semblance of regular life deep underground was a much more sophisticated endeavor. Colony groups shortly realized one of the best technique was cooperation, since there was no cap to the variety of winners. As soon as they began sharing what they’d discovered, the engineering of key colony programs developed extremely shortly. It didn’t take lengthy for the groups to reach at configurations that laptop simulations predicted would assist 100 folks, then 150, then nearly 200. All of them additionally realized that it was necessary to construct in some redundancy. Issues go fallacious, resembling gear failures. And typically issues go proper. Colony populations had been anticipated to develop through the mission experiment.

By January 2043, simply six years into the experiment, the primary colony, Endeavor Sub Terra, introduced that it was able to seal the doorways and begin the mission clock. Endeavor Sub Terra’s group (ESTers, as they grew to become identified) was located simply east of the Arizona State College campus, past the Maricopa First Nations Neighborhood. (Sarcastically sufficient, Biosphere 2 had stood close by the Arizona State campus, too.) It was sponsored partially by the college and the state authorities, which offered land and beneficiant tax incentives. ESTers had been rigorously chosen from the massive group that had fashioned to construct the Arizona colony. Many had been households with children, although there have been younger {couples} and folks in numerous different relationship configurations. They’d all been dwelling and dealing within the canisters for a while already. Occurring the clock simply meant not going outdoors for greater than 730 days.

Its canisters had been moved underground; the tunnel was sealed and stuffed with gases that intently matched the Martian ambiance composition. Energy and communication programs simulated the anticipated kilowatts and in addition transmission delays, which ranged from three minutes to so long as twenty-two minutes, relying on the relative positions of the planets.

ESTers had been the primary colonists to seal themselves off from the floor, however due to the in depth info and infrastructure sharing, a lot of the others had been shut behind. By the spring of 2044, all seventy-two colonist groups had moved underground.

CFUs devised and used completely different financial and governance programs. Some paid colonists as full-time workers, who earned salaries for the time they spent engaged on the prize and dwelling in the neighborhood. Just like the Worldwide Area Station, there was nothing to purchase or promote. Salaries earned had been deposited into colonists’ financial institution accounts for his or her use again on the floor. Different colonies developed common fundamental earnings (UBI) fashions, the place all inhabitants obtained a set of credit to begin with within the type of group digital tokens. Step by step, group members would use these tokens as forex— to pay for items and providers whereas they lived within the colony.18

There have been detractors. Some folks referred to the colonies as “ant farms,” “hamster cages,” and “self-filling prisons.” However the colonists shrugged off the barbs. They believed their canisters and tunnels had been nice locations to dwell, work, and lift a household. The atmosphere was free from pathogens. Excessive floor climate occasions weren’t even observed underground. Tunnels proved secure through the firenados that had been ravaging giant swaths of North America and Western Europe in the summertime of 2044.

The colonies excelled at bioengineering. Their life science canisters had been outfitted with one of the best biofabs, together with sequencers and synthesizers. These in command of growing organisms wanted for vertical farms and recycling programs invented novel approaches, and so they tailored and developed their native, pure ecosystems as time handed. In addition they designed particular surveillance programs to detect any contaminations or mutations.

The underground colonies offered refuge from perilous floor storms, however the experiment didn’t change fundamental human nature. Earlier than sealing, psychographic information had been collected on all group members to make sure they may stand up to dwelling in an enclosure with simply 99 different folks, however nobody precisely predicted the best group composition. Neurodiverse candidates had been allowed, although folks with panic dysfunction or attention-deficit/hyperactivity dysfunction (ADHD), or who had been liable to despair, had been strongly discouraged. Those that had anger administration points, or who displayed indicators of narcissistic character dysfunction, had been sometimes excluded. Nonetheless, some group leaders bent the foundations, or outright broke them. Rich donors anticipated entry and privileges in return for his or her funding, which regularly meant leaping the road in entrance of extra certified or appropriate candidates. Some donors even purchased their youngsters a colony stint, hoping it will land their children at extra prestigious schools later. Others thought it will be the last word standing trip, or a method to increase visitors to their digital media channels, and insisted they make the record.

There have been additionally failures. In some colonies, vicious politicking, infighting, and scandal plagued inhabitants the minute the doorways closed. In Visionary Valley, for instance, the funders had been decided to handle the group as they’d a enterprise. Inside two months, the colony imploded. The funders had insisted that solely they need to know the lock codes to key assets, resembling meals and water shops. In addition they constructed a colony-wide surveillance system that might be seen utilizing solely their very own biometric authentication. This wasn’t identified to colony members upfront, who realized, as soon as they had been all underground, {that a} hierarchical system was in place that mirrored the facility and wealth imbalance they’d endured on the floor.

The colonists tried a coup, however they had been successfully dwelling in a panopticon, and there was no manner for them to take over. Disgusted and enraged, they broke the seal on Visionary Valley and vowed by no means to return.

In each group, some colonists struggled with social isolation, the abrupt change of way of life, and restricted motion. A number of felt a way of persistent unease, which led to problem concentrating and sleeping. For others, despair and nervousness had been extra acute. These colonists grew to become simply frightened and developed paranoia. Some had violent outbursts or grew to become indifferent from members of the family and pals. Colonists gave that situation a reputation—traumatic below- floor syndrome, or TBSS—and there was no simple method to deal with it.

Essentially the most profitable colonies had been people who acknowledged humanity’s fundamental physiological and security wants. Folks needed to really feel a way of goal and belonging, and there have been loads of jobs to do inside every group. A number of UBI packages had been profitable, however most digital token programs weren’t good. Colonists blew via their preliminary allotment quick, and there was no financial institution to lend them further credit. They needed to borrow from neighbors, which brought on friction, because it at all times has. In a single colony, a sudden surge in demand for strawberries led to inflation, quickly inflicting the costs of all produce to spike.

Flat energy buildings hardly ever work; some folks will at all times need to lead, and others by no means do. Many colonies developed a modified social democratic system of presidency favoring consensus. Colony directors rotated via positions, which wasn’t at all times good, however incentivized directors towards leaving a large number for his or her successors. A number of colonies experimented with letting AI programs run the whole lot.

Endeavor Sub Terra, the primary to go on the clock, was additionally the primary to win the $1 billion award in early 2045. Musk and the Colony Prize would finally award fifty-five of the seventy-two groups. He thought of it to be one of the best return on funding he’d ever made. Humanity had constructed the technical and social basis for turning into a multiplanetary, spacefaring species—one that would scale indefinitely when given entry to vitality and uncooked supplies. Along with producing web surpluses of meals, water, and different requirements, many colonies had reached financial escape velocity: the analysis, programs, and merchandise they created had been incomes them some huge cash on the floor. In the event that they needed to, they may reinvest and continue to grow. Which is why many ESTers determined to stay underground even after the mission ended.

They’d developed an airlock and decontamination system that may allow colonists to pop again as much as the floor from time to time to go to previous pals or to take pleasure in one of many few days of fine climate. They agreed to carrying or ingesting sensors, colony-wide testing, and quarantines to make sure that nobody introduced a virus or different pathogen again into public areas within the enclosure. They bought their very own tunneling machines and extra canisters to accommodate one other two thousand folks—however they already had a 3rd development plan underway for thousands and thousands of colonists, with new underground neighborhoods, geothermal turbines, huge bioreactors, and even an underground ocean. It might not have been his intention, however Musk’s Colony Prize had seeded the most important funding in sustainable communities that humanity had ever seen.

All over the world, floor ecosystems had been rewilding as struggling farms and cities had been deserted for the underground. Buildings, roads, and houses had been left to degrade naturally, eroded by daylight, water, and vegetation. Nature and pure programs had been bouncing again quicker than anybody predicted, which required a brand new technology of naturalists and ecologists to check Earth’s dramatic new ecosystem shifts. For the primary time in over a century, the CO2 ranges within the ambiance started to drop.

ESTers might see a way forward for versatile dwelling: a manner for folks to dwell effectively on spaceship Earth or, if desired, off-planet. A private module might be shipped to Mars and related to a colony.

Generally ESTers would go to the floor at evening. Mendacity on the bottom, and with none gentle air pollution, they’d marvel on the cover of stars above them. The celebrities appeared to whisper as they twinkled: Come, people, discover!

Mars, and different planets, had been ready.

Excerpted from THE GENESIS MACHINE: Our Quest to Rewrite Life within the Age of Artificial Biology by Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel. Copyright © 2022. Obtainable from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Hachette Guide Group, Inc.


1. Mike Wall, “Elon Musk, X Prize Launch $100 Million Carbon-Elimination Competitors,”, April 23, 2021,

2. Eric Berger, “Inside Elon Musk’s Plan to Construct One Starship a Week—and Settle Mars,” Ars Technica, March 5, 2020,

3. Morgan McFall-Johnsen and Dave Mosher, “Elon Musk Says He Plans to Ship 1 Million Folks to Mars by 2050 by Launching 3 Starship Rockets Each Day and Creating ‘a Lot of Jobs’ on the Pink Planet,” Enterprise Insider, January 17, 2020, -2020-1.

4. Mike Wall, “Elon Musk, X Prize Launch $100 Million Carbon-Elimination Competitors,”, April 23, 2021,; Eric Berger, “Inside Elon Musk’s Plan to Construct One Starship a Week—and Settle Mars,” Ars Technica, March 5, 2020,; Morgan McFall-Johnsen and Dave Mosher, “Elon Musk Says He Plans to Ship 1 Million Folks to Mars by 2050 by Launching 3 Starship Rockets Each Day and Creating ‘a Lot of Jobs’ on the Pink Planet,” Enterprise Insider, January 17, 2020,

5. “Astronauts Reply Scholar Questions,” NASA,

6. Eric Berger, “Meet the Actual Ironman of Spaceflight: Valery Polyakov,” Ars Technica, March 7, 2016, Valeri Polyakov held the report for a single mission, spending a powerful 437 days on the Mir station within the Nineteen Nineties.

7. “Longest Submarine Patrol,” Guinness Guide of World Information,

8. Jackie Wattles, “Colonizing Mars Might Be Harmful and Ridiculously Costly. Elon Musk Desires to Do It Anyway,” CNN, September 8, 2020,; Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, “Elon Musk’s First Identify Reveals Up in 1953 Guide About Colonizing Mars,” CNET, Might 7, 2021,

9. Ali Bekhtaoui, “Egos Conflict in Bezos and Musk Area Race,”, Might 2, 2021,

10. Sean O’Kane, “The Boring Firm Assessments Its ‘Teslas in Tunnels’ System in Las Vegas,” The Verge, Might 26, 2021,; Kathryn Hardison,“What Will Turn out to be of All This?,” American Metropolis Enterprise Journals, Might 28, 2021,; Philip Ball, “Make Your Personal World with Programmable Matter,” IEEE Spectrum, Might 27, 2014,

11. Neuralink web site:

12. Chia web site: https://www.chia.web.

13. NOVOFARM web site:

14. Sean O’Kane, “The Boring Firm Assessments Its ‘Teslas in Tunnels’ System in Las Vegas,” The Verge, Might 26, 2021,

15. Kathryn Hardison, “What Will Turn out to be of All This?,” American Metropolis Enterprise Journals, Might 28, 2021,

16. Philip Ball, “Make Your Personal World with Programmable Matter,” IEEE Spectrum, Might 27, 2014,

17. “What Is Biosphere 2,” Biosphere 2, College of Arizona, to/what-is-biosphere-2.

18. Our serious about the EST economic system and governing construction was loosely knowledgeable by Norway and Sweden. Interview with Dr. Christian Guilette, Scandinavian College at College of California, Berkeley, April 23, 2021. 

The Tim Ferriss Present is one of the preferred podcasts on this planet with greater than 700 million downloads. It has been chosen for “Better of Apple Podcasts” 3 times, it’s usually the #1 interview podcast throughout all of Apple Podcasts, and it has been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many events. To hearken to any of the previous episodes free of charge, take a look at this web page.


Victoria Joy
I am an independent lady, working hard to share my ideas from my experiences to the whole world. I want people to be happier and to understand that your life is very very important. Walk with me and experience the beauty this world can offer by following simple logical steps.


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