The query came on the heels of SpaceX's historic launch on Thursday of a “flight-proven” rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 became the first rocket to be successfully launched, landed vertically, then reused.
SpaceX's founder, tech billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has said he aims to send the first human mission to Mars as soon as 2025.
“Hi Neil! Just wanted to know your thoughts on SpaceX's Falcon 9 relaunch and landing, and what do you think it means for the future of space travel?” a Reddit user named patopc1999 asked Tyson on Sunday. “[A]lso, would you ever consider to join a one-way trip to Mars?”
Like so many of Tyson's answers, his response was concise, elegant and based on scientific reasoning. And it seems there remain a few key unsolved variables that prevent Tyson from committing to Musk's long-shot Mars mission.
“I really like Earth. So any space trip I take, I'm double-checking that there's sufficient funds for me to return,” Tyson wrote. “Also, I'm not taking that trip until Elon Musk (sends) his mother and brings her back alive. Then I'm good for it.”
SpaceX has been ambitious and aggressive when it comes to pursuing commercial space ventures, with mixed results. The company lost two rockets in two years, but has pushed on, announcing in February that it would fly two paying, private citizens around the moon late next year.
Among Musk's many ambitions, he has said he wants to eventually colonize Mars. Unfortunately for those who would like to see Tyson take up residence elsewhere in the solar system, Musk's mother has actually already addressed the matter — and it appears she has no plans to blast off into space.
“Oh no, I'm not moving to Mars,” Maye Musk told Mashable last year. “Frankly, it's because they need the younger people there like engineers to create a future. They don't need me.”
On a more serious note, regarding SpaceX, Tyson did also praise the company for continuing to test and advance the technology behind reusable rockets.
“Any demonstration of rocket reusability is a good thing,” Tyson wrote on Reddit. “When we fly on a Boeing 747 across great distances, we don't throw it away and roll out a new one. Reusability is arguably the most fundamental feature of affordable expensive things.”
That said, he also admitted he was “simultaneously one of SpaceX's biggest critics and supporters,” and predicted that a private company would not be the first to fly human beings to Mars without a government funding such a mission.
“I've said many times and many places … that projects that are hugely expensive and dangerous, with uncertain returns on investments, make poor activities of profit-driven companies,” Tyson wrote. “Governments do these things first, allowing private enterprise to learn what to do and what not to do, then come next with a plan that involves us all.”
Throughout the rest of Sunday's “Ask Me Anything” session, Tyson discussed everything from his favorite books and philosophers to his poignant advice for a struggling undergraduate science major to whether humans would find complex life beyond Earth in the next century.
It was not the first time people had sought out Tyson to tackle life's complicated questions. The day after Election Day, late-night TV host Stephen Colbert invited Tyson on his show to help explain Donald Trump's path to the presidency.
“You know what we do in moments like this in my field?” Tyson told Colbert. “We invoke the cosmic perspective.”
“What’s that?” Colbert asked.
“That’s what Earth look likes from high above. Not just, like, from the atmosphere, but from space itself, from the universe,” Tyson explained. “And when you do that, all Earth’s problems dissolve away into the infinitude of the space time continuum.”