Mail to Mars

Eddie Hubbard, left, and William E. Boeing stand in front of a Boeing C-700 seaplane near Seattle after returning from a survey flight to Vancouver, BC, in 1919. They brought with them a pouch with 60 letters, making this the first international mail flight.

When it comes to colonizing Mars, Elon Musk may be looking to the history of mail for insight.

The Atlantic newsmagazine suggests there are parallels between the business magnate’s plans for Mars and the U.S. Mail-powered birth of the aviation industry.

In the 1920s, Boeing Air Transport helped usher in the era of commercial flight by earning a lucrative mail contract from the Post Office Department.

Through these contracts, Boeing “saw a bridge to passenger service, something that set them apart from many of their peers,” The Atlantic notes.

Ninety years later, Musk sees a similar bridge.

His SpaceX startup has earned more than $7 billion in contracts from NASA and private industry. These contracts call for SpaceX to send cargo to existing space stations.

Eventually, SpaceX hopes the contracts will allow the company to move toward commercial travel. Musk aims to shuttle thousands of people to Mars by 2024.

Many observers are skeptical that this can be accomplished.

But many people also doubted commercial aviation was possible — until airmail pilots’ daily experiences became a cornerstone of the industry.

Or as The Atlantic puts it: “[O]ne of the best lenses to view the future through is that offered by history.”