FEMALE SPEAKER: As one does.
MICHIO KAKU: Yeah. I grew up in Palo Alto, where a lot of young people in their garages built machines. So I built a beta-tron particle accelerator. I got 400 pounds of transformer steel, 22 miles of copper wire, and I built a 6-kilowatt, 2.3 million electron vol beta-tron in my mom’s garage. I plugged it in finally. I closed my eyes. I shut my ears. And I heard this huge crackling sound as 6 kilowatts of raw power surged through the capacitor bank. And then I heard this pop, pop, pop, sound, I blew out all the circuit breakers and fuses in the house.
So my poor mom, she’d come home from a hard day’s work and say to herself, why couldn’t I have a son who plays baseball? Maybe if I buy him a basketball — and for God’s sake, why can’t you find a nice Japanese girlfriend? Why does he have to build these machines in the garage?
But it earned the attention of another physicist. A physicist took an interest in me at the National Science Foundation — at the National Science Fair in Albuquerque. And he arranged for me to get a scholarship to Harvard. His name was Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb.
FEMALE SPEAKER: And from then to now, how do you feel like the course of your career has changed, or what — have your interests shifted since then, since that beginning of you want to solve the theory of everything?
MICHIO KAKU: Yeah, that’s still the goal. But as a hobby I like to read science books. I’m a science junkie. And I have the privilege of interviewing hundreds of scientists for BBC Television, the Discovery Channel. And whenever I interview these scientists — about one a week, for my radio show and TV — I always ask them the key question, the question of all questions. And that is — is there intelligent life on the earth?
Well, I was watching the Kardashians on TV last night. And I’m convinced that there’s no intelligent life on this planet. But maybe in outer space, maybe in outer space there’s intelligent life out there.
FEMALE SPEAKER: So, in your book, you talk about how we might leave the earth to possibly meet intelligent life elsewhere.
MICHIO KAKU: And we may have to. The dinosaurs — the dinosaurs did not have a space program and that’s why they’re not here today. That’s why there are not dinosaurs in this room, because they didn’t have a space program. But we do have a space program. And prices are dropping every day. Things are getting cheaper. Silicon Valley billionaires are writing checks.
And, for example, how many people in this room have seen the movie, “The Martian”– raise your hand– with Matt Damon? Whoa. That movie cost $100 million. But the Indian government sent a probe to Mars for $70 million. So a Hollywood movie about going to Mars costs more than actually going to Mars. That’s how much prices have dropped.
And rockets are going to be reusable in the future. When we commute to work, and you drive your car to work and park the car, do you junk your car and sell it for scrap after one trip? That’s what we do for rocket ships. We take one trip in a rocket ship and dump it in the ocean. You’d bankrupt the world if every car had to be junked after one ride. That’s going to change the economics of space travel when we have reusable rockets.
FEMALE SPEAKER: So, one thing I like about your book is you’ve structured it as sort of like, we’re starting with, how do we get off the planet? How do we colonize our solar system? And then how do we think beyond that and beyond that? So, when someone asks you, like, well, how close are we actually to living on Mars, how do you answer that?
MICHIO KAKU: Well, first of all, we’re going to the moon next year. After a 50-year gap, the SLS booster rocket is going to be fired up and we’re going to go to the moon. And not only that, there’s going to be a traffic jam around the moon, because Elon Musk has his Falcon Heavy rocket capable of going not just to the moon, but Mars. He has sent a Tesla sports car on a trajectory to Mars.
And then we also have the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos — or the former richest man in the world — he has the Neil Armstrong rocket. And then the Chinese have the Long March rocket. We’re going to have a traffic jam around the moon pretty soon. And I think our grandkids — our grandkids may have the option of honeymooning on the moon. The moon is — the moon is only three days away. It’s a hop, skip, and a jump.
FEMALE SPEAKER: So the moon is closer, Mars is a little bit farther. So, you talk in your book about also possibly colonizing some of the moons around Jupiter and Saturn. How do you imagine us getting there? How far — I mean, is this within our generation, our lifetime?
MICHIO KAKU: Well starting next year, we’re going back to the moon with an unmanned space probe that will orbit around the moon. Around 2023, humans will go back to the moon. And so we’ll begin the process of making the moon a base, to eventually go to Mars. And then SpaceX already has the preparations for a Mars rocket. It is a huge rocket, the biggest one ever conceived. It’s called the BFR, the biggest rocket. B for Big, R for Rocket, and F for your imagination. It’s already being built. So we’re already laying out the steps to go to Mars.