SpaceX's plans for getting people to Mars are big and still a bit vague. Its plan for helping colonists actually live there for long periods of time is even more nebulous. But company founder Elon Musk suggests the latter part is by design — because SpaceX's job is to be the railroad of the space age, opening up the Martian frontier to people who will make the most of living there. "The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system. It's like building the Union-Pacific Railroad," said Musk during today's event. "And once that transport system is built, then there's a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new, or build the foundations of a new planet."
"That's really where a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship and talent would flourish, just as happened in California when the Union-Pacific Railroad was completed," Musk continued. "When they were building the Union-Pacific, a lot of people [would] say, well, that's a super-dumb idea, because hardly anybody lives in California. But now today, we've got the US epicenter of technology development and entertainment, and it's the biggest state in the nation. But you need that transport link. If you can't get there, none of those opportunities exist, so our goal is just to make sure you can get there."
One major caveat: California may have been a dangerous frontier for many, but people were already living there, and its environment was not fundamentally deadly to human beings. Small differences!