a SpaceX Assembly
|Alex Koszycki||Oct 12, 2020|
It’s 4:50 pm on a Friday in the year 2026. You hop in a self-driving electric cab for your commute home.
Bzzt. You get a notification on your phone.
SpaceX Starship Mars Launch
Assembly will be live at 5 pm PST
After years of unmanned missions, the day is finally here. A dozen astronauts will board the Starship and begin their long journey to the red planet. There they will begin the process of establishing the infrastructure for a permanent Mars colony.
You click on the notification and it takes you into the Assembly app.
A video starts to play automatically. A dark-haired, tired-looking man walks onto the screen, smiling wide. A banner appears at the bottom of the screen: “Elon Musk - SpaceX CEO.” He starts to speak.
On behalf of all of us at SpaceX, thank you for joining us on this historic day. Today, humankind boldly leaps forward towards a new and exciting future: multi-planetary civilization.
The launch will begin at 5 PM Pacific Time, so don’t go anywhere.
Uhm unless you need to use the restroom, in which case I suggest you take care of that now.
You tap your phone on a large video display that is mounted on the seat-back in front of you. The screen flickers to life, and the video jumps up to the larger display. A moment later, you hear his voice on the car’s audio system.
While we wait, I thought it would be uhm interesting to present a few facts about today’s launch, so uhm, let’s get to it. We started to develop the Starship system over a decade ago, and it’s been a helluva journey, believe me…
While Elon continues and the car pushes its way through traffic, you glance back down at your phone. On the screen, you see a globe of the earth slowly rotating over a black background. The planet is shown with satellite-quality details. You see dark blue oceans, green jungles, and burnt yellow deserts. While it spins, pinpricks of light are shining out from the surface. There are huge clusters of light around highly populated cities like New York and Los Angeles.
The Earth looks like a glittering jewel, and for a moment you’re mesmerized as little pinpricks of light are appearing all over the map; not only in the Americas but also in Europe and Asia, even in seemingly deserted oceans. In the corner of the screen, you see a constantly scrolling number getting larger and larger: 900 million people and counting.
The music rises with a triumphant flourish as a graphic slides over the pre-recorded Elon video. It reads: “ASSEMBLY NEWS is LIVE in 5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1.”
The graphic slides off the screen to reveal a sharp-eyed young woman. She’s sitting in an office chair in front of floor-to-ceiling glass windows. A SpaceX logo hovers in the corner of the screen and a banner appears that reads “Nebula Gillan - SpaceX Correspondent.”
Today is Friday, August 7th, 2026 and you’re watching Assembly News. I’m your host, Nebula Gillan. With me today is Founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk.
As Nebula speaks, the camera pans out and recenters to her left, revealing Elon sitting in another chair, wearing a sports jacket over a t-shirt. On the t-shirt is an image of a dog in a SpaceX spacesuit. You make out the words “Mars Rover.”
The window behind them reveals an enormous launchpad apparatus hugging the gigantic Super Heavy rocket. A number of small vehicles flit around the apparatus, and a couple of cranes can be seen near the rocket.
Nebula begins to interview Elon about what is happening behind them, and as they speak a live video feed from closer to the launchpad appears in the corner of the screen. Elon begins to explain what is on the feed, and meanwhile, the video expands to fill the screen.
For the moment, there’s not a whole lot going on, so you look back down at your phone and navigate to the “Trending Topics” section of the app to see what people are talking about.
You see a visualization that looks like bubbles of different sizes and colors. Some of them are very large and some very small. There are a few that have elliptical shapes, but most are circular. As you watch, they are growing and shrinking, and some are slowly moving in various directions. You notice as one of the elongated shapes splits into two smaller bubbles.
You click on a large purple bubble and the visualization zooms in and centers over it. Some text swims into view as you get closer. It reads, “Elon’s shirt is amazing.” There’s a scrolling number floating in the corner of the bubble that currently reads “721K related comments.”
You chuckle involuntarily and open the bubble to view a live feed of comments and jokes related to Elon’s shirt. You type in “Where can I buy that shirt?” and post it.
Your comment jumps out into the middle of the screen and becomes a little green bubble. As you watch, it soars smoothly across the visualization and joins a bunch of other green bubbles clustered close together. The graphic zooms out and reveals that, together, they make up a new topic.
This time the text reads “Shut up and take my money!” followed by a hyperlink to the SpaceX online store. There are 348 related comments; yours is floating in sight nearby. There’s also a gif playing underneath the text that shows a cartoon character from the show Futurama thrusting out a fistful of dollar bills.
You press and hold on the bubble and a context menu appears. You click Save so you can find the link later. Then you zoom back out to the view where you can see all of the comments floating around.
A lot has changed while you were commenting, and you’re curious to see what the most discussed comments are. Swiping up on the visualization, you open a drawer that shows a list of clusters in order of how many related comments each of them has. You read through a few of them.
Can we see video of the astronauts?
I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.
Elon, why aren’t you going?
How long does it take to get to Mars?
Those astronauts are so brave!
Is there internet on Mars?
You scroll through for a minute before you hear Nebula say, “Elon, how about we take a moment now to take some questions from the audience?”
“Sure thing. Let’s do it,” he replies.
You notice that they’ve added a count-down clock in the corner of the screen. 10 minutes to launch.
Someone off-screen hands Nebula an iPad. “One of our top questions here is asking for a video feed of the astronauts. I believe we do have access to that, can we bring it up?”
With a small transition graphic, a feed appears showing people wearing full-body SpaceX spacesuits and shiny helmets sitting in rows, buckled into chairs that look a bit like futuristic movie theater seating. As they sit, some of the passengers are chatting with each other and stretching. A few of them are interacting with touch screens that are mounted on their seats.
After a moment, the astronauts start to wave at the camera.
You notice that there is a symbol in the corner of the feed, indicating that it can be streamed separately from the main event. On your phone, you navigate to the stream information in the Assembly app. You click on the link for the second live stream and tap your phone to a display that is mounted on the back of the passenger-side seat. It lights up and starts streaming the secondary video feed.
Turning your attention back to the main screen, you see that a comment is pinned in the banner underneath Elon and Nebula. It reads, “Elon, why aren’t you going?” and Nebula and Elon are laughing at some joke.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Elon exclaims. “My partner was very clear. I’m literally grounded,” he says, drawing out the word. “I’m grounded for missing too many date nights and I have to make it up to her before we even think about Mars.”
On your phone you see a dark red bubble growing rapidly. This should be entertaining.
You click into it and you see a bunch of bawdy and crude jokes. As they scroll on the screen you see some of them being replaced by a grey italicized “moderated” as the crowdsourced moderators respond to flagged comments.
You’re brought back to the main screen as you hear the music pick up. A graphic appears and Nebula begins to speak.
That’s right, everybody, it’s time for us to hear from you! With launch only minutes away, you can feel the electricity in the air. That’s why now is the best time for us to put you on the spot. So without further ado, our question for you today is:
How many of YOU want to visit Mars someday?
As a reminder, you can answer the poll on your device in the “Data” section of the Assembly app. We’ll take a break now and let Elon return to the ground control deck for the launch. Thanks for joining us for the pre-show festivities Elon!
As Elon waves awkwardly at the camera and takes his leave, your phone vibrates and you see a banner notification for the poll appear. You click it to reveal a question with a few answer choices below it.
I’ll go when Elon goes.
You tap your answer and glance up at the screen. They’ve brought back the feed with the passengers, but a graphic remains overlayed on the screen with the poll question and a counter for how many answers have been submitted. You do a double-take when you read the number; it’s already over 1 billion!
The cab arrives at your street, and you rush out trying to get to your living room TV as fast as possible. As you jog toward your door, you notice that someone has set up a projector playing the Assembly event onto the side of your building. There are groups of people in the street talking and laughing. Someone’s grilling burgers next to a fire hydrant, and there’s a guy selling beers out of a cooler to the crowd.
You slow down and join the party. Whoever set up the projector has enabled Assembly’s multi-user feature, and a little QR code has appeared in the corner of the video. You point your phone up at the code, and you’re dropped into a chatroom. There are a few posts pinned at the top of the chat - prices for food and drinks, directions to the nearest bathroom, and a picture of a police officer and a tattooed bearded man clinking beer bottles captioned “Celebrate responsibly.”
Scrolling through the chat room, you don’t see too much. Just a few people arguing about politics and a couple of posts about playing something called “space beer pong” in an alley nearby.
There’s some activity on the projected screen, and someone turns up the volume. The rocket’s fuel has been lit and it fills the right side of the screen. In the top left corner, there is another marked video feed that shows the inside of SpaceX headquarters as they count down in unison. Underneath it is a third feed that shows the passengers strapped into their seats as the picture vibrates violently.
People are counting down all around you on the street, and when it hits 20 seconds it feels like every voice on the street is in sync.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …
The rocket shudders into the air and pushes its way skyward. The thunderous sound drowns out everything else on the street. An unfamiliar voice in the video yells “We have liftoff!”
The crowd goes bananas. People are hugging each other and screaming and jumping up and down. More than a few are weeping openly.
The feed of the astronauts turns to static as the rocket climbs out of range. After a moment, it’s replaced with a graphic showing the results of the live poll.
In a bit of a daze, you stare at the poll and see that about half of the respondents had answered that there was absolutely “no way” they would visit Mars in their lifetimes. As you watch, though, something starts to change. At first, you’re not sure, but after a moment you’re positive.
The “no” bar is shrinking!
It seems that more and more people are answering the poll, and the other bars are all edging up as the “no way” bar slowly shrinks. The poll counter reaches 3 billion respondents as you watch.
Unbelievable, you think to yourself… Maybe a city on Mars isn’t so crazy after all.
Excitement over the launch hangs around for weeks. It’s the only thing people want to talk about. There are plenty of chances for people to geek out about it. The passengers’ families make regular appearances on other live Assembly News events, and share pre-recorded videos of the astronauts talking about what going to Mars means to them. Occasionally, the Starship sends short videos back to Earth showing the passengers settling in for their long flight.
The Assembly user community is a flurry of activity as people post new articles, analyses, and visualizations of the data gathered during the broadcast. The recording of the event is watched billions of times and breaks all prior viewership records.
In years to come, history books would marvel that in one day, two very significant things happened:
Humans set off for the first time with the intention of colonizing another planet.
Half of all humans on earth watched the same event happen at the same time.
People would spend decades analyzing the impact of this shared experience. What ripple effects did it have on global politics, war, human culture, religion, etc?
Whatever the reality, for many years after Friday, August 7th, 2026, no one could deny that the future seemed bright.
Anything could happen now.