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Elon Musk updates the ending of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot

The famed rocket man is working to create options for humanity that the late writer and scientist only dreamed of.

Musk reads Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot."
YouTube screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

There's plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Elon Musk's grand vision of making humans a "multi-planetary species" by first building a metropolis on Mars, but the SpaceX founder has a knack for selling that vision with a particular poignancy. 

In a new episode of Lex Fridman's Artificial Intelligence podcast, the MIT researcher asks Musk to read a famous passage from Carl Sagan's famous 1994 book Pale Blue Dot. The CEO obliges but bookends the reading with a few of his own observations to provide a 21st century, post-Musk spin.

Sagan was referring to a photo taken of Earth at his own suggestion by Voyager 1 in 1990 from more than 4 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) away. In the image, our planet is indeed a tiny pale blue dot less than the size of a single pixel. 

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"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives," Sagan begins the passage, referring to the pale blue dot called Earth.

But before reading the words, Musk offers his own preface:

"Earth is like four-and-a-half billion years old. In another half billion years or so the sun will expand and probably evaporate the oceans and make life impossible on Earth, which means that if it had taken consciousness ten percent longer to evolve it would never have evolved at all. Just ten percent longer. And I wonder how many dead one-planet civilizations there are out there in the cosmos that never made it to the other planets and ultimately extinguished themselves or were destroyed by external factors. Probably a few."

Musk then goes on to read Sagan, which you can see in the video above. Sagan's words end with: "The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate..."

At this point, Musk cuts off Sagan's last few lines and interjects:

"This is not true," Musk laughs. "This is false... Mars."

"And I think Carl Sagan would agree with that. He couldn't even imagine it at that time," Fridman adds.

Sagan could certainly imagine humans making it to Mars in 1994. Imagine that an iconoclastic billionaire who made his fortune in online payments would be the person pushing hardest for it 25 years later, well... maybe not.