Flying the flag

Flag for Mars: Elon Musk's city slowly gains an identity to call its own

The SpaceX CEO's plan for a Martian city is taking shape.

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Elon Musk wants to build a city on Mars by 2050, and already, fans have been discussing potential ideas for a flag.

The SpaceX CEO has outlined his goals to send the first humans to Mars in the next few years, a stepping stone to a full-blown city by the middle of the century. While most peoples' attention has been focused on the shiny Starship that will complete the journey, Musk weighed in on a more future-facing topic back in October 2020: what should the city's flag look like?

Inverse is counting down the 20 most universe-altering moments of 2020. This is number 2. See the full list here.

SpaceX has been gradually working toward sending humans to Mars for years — and it is making steady, if occasionally faltering, progress. In December 2020, the firm sent a prototype of the Starship soaring to a new height of 41,000 feet. The "SN8" prototype exploded upon landing, but Musk was elated that the ship had survived for so long in the air at all.

The fully-reusable ship is designed to send over 150 tons, or 100 people, into space at a time. If it one day carries a human crew to Mars, then these humans will likely take mementos of life back on Earth with them — as well as symbolic objects to mark this new frontier. Just as the Apollo astronauts planted the American flag on the Moon, so might future space-faring travelers bring a new flag for a new era to Mars.

Musk drew attention to one flag candidate in October. He shared a photo illustration on Twitter by photographer John Kraus. The incredible shot showed a Falcon 9 booster, carrying 60 Starlink satellites up into space to add to SpaceX's growing internet constellation, soaring in front of the Sun.

"Maybe this should be the flag of Mars," Musk wrote.

Kraus responded by tweaking the photo to better reflect the planet's distinct look:

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Musk and Kraus aren't the first to put a candidate forward. Greg Bear's 1993 novel Moving Mars describes a flag with a red Mars and two smaller red moons in the upper-left corner. Half the flag was in white, to show how much the settlement "had to grow."

SpaceX's city could face a wealth of questions when it starts. The new city may have to consider emergent questions of identity, biological changes from radiation, and even new economic systems.

Director Werner Herzog has even declared the whole idea an "obscenity," arguing that the coming century will end such "technological utopias." Chinese billionaire Jack Ma also told Musk in 2019 that Earth "needs more heroes...improving things every day."

The city will have to prove itself in its early years. But, at least for now, it seems the city won't have to worry about which flag it waves.

Inverse is counting down the 20 most universe-altering moments of 2020. This is number 2. See the full list here.

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