Bill Gates: Elon Musk Should Spend His Money on Vaccines Instead of on Trips to Mars

Bill Gates says Elon Musk's billions would be better spent on vaccines, instead of on space exploration 14 photos
Photo: BBC / @cb-doge / Composite
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“Don’t go to Mars!” That’s not the cry of some desperate, forlorn lover bidding adieu to their space-adventurer lover, but one billionaire’s heartfelt urge to another billionaire.
The feud between Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk lives on. It has never shown any signs of abating, if we’re being honest, and the latest Gates interview will certainly not work any wonders in this sense.

Gates and Musk have been at it, trading jabs via press interviews and social media, for some time, since Gates revealed that he had shorted Tesla. If there’s one thing that Musk hates with a passion, it’s Tesla shorts, so his feelings for Gates are not hard to explain.

On the other hand, Gates believes that Musk is failing his responsibility as one of the world’s richest persons. So, billionaire-to-billionaire, he has some suggestions for improvement. Unlike Musk, Gates is part of the Giving Pledge, a 2010 billionaire fund that includes 230+ of the richest people on Earth, all of them pledging to donate their fortunes to charity by the end of their lifetimes. Then again, Musk is much younger than Gates, so he still has time to come around.

Inspiration 4
Photo: SpaceX
At least, that’s the hope Gates holds onto, as evidenced by his recent chat with the BBC. These past few months, Gates has been doing the media rounds to raise awareness on a variety of issues that he’s either directly involved in or deeply passionate about, from vaccines and sustainability measures, to clean energy. The question of how much value Musk places on these issues was bound to come up, especially against the background of his endeavors with SpaceX, aiming to colonize Mars.

To those not within their respective circles (so, basically 99.9% of the world) Gates and Musk have only two things in common: their desire to help save humanity, and their billions, which they’re willing to use to achieve the former. They also share an equally-passionate dislike of each other, so make that three things they have in common.

Whereas Musk is convinced that humanity needs to become an “inter-planetary” species so we can have a backup plan in case the proverbial number 2 hits the fan on Earth, Gates is more of a short-term problem-solver kind-of guy. Naturally, Musk’s funneling millions into SpaceX is not sitting well with Gates.

Put it in much simpler words, Gates believes Musk would be doing far more good for our planet if he spent his billions on stuff like vaccines, instead of on space exploration. It seems pointless to try to colonize a new planet when your current one is on fire, more or less. He says this much in the interview: “It's actually quite expensive to go to Mars. You can buy measles vaccines and save lives for $1,000 per life saved. And so [that] just kind of grounds you, as in – don't go to Mars.”

SpaceX Crew Dragon going vertical on the launch pad
Photo: SpaceX
Gates also expresses his belief that Musk will become a philanthropist “eventually,” and will invest some of his money into earth-bound problems. The time will come when he will see them as a priority. “But at the end of the day, I don't think, other than going to Mars a few times, which might cost a little bit, I don't think he'll want to spend it on himself,” he explains with a smile.

Musk has not yet addressed Gates’ obvious jab (pun intended). He’s been quite active on Twitter recently, so maybe he believes he doesn’t need to. The debate is already live on social media as we speak, and by the looks of things, his supporters seem willing to wage this battle in his name.

The possibility that Musk is simply too busy or lacking the energy to address Gates’ comment doesn’t exist. Along the years, Musk had proven quite sensitive to criticism of his space program and / or the way he chooses to spend his money, especially when said criticism comes from people with a large platform. You need only look at his reaction to the comments of United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) director David Beasley, in November 2021, for an example.

Back then, Beasley argued that it would take “only” $6 billion from the world’s richest persons to avoid several catastrophic humanitarian crises in several parts of the world… if only they were willing to part with that kind of money. Beasley got specific too, calling out Musk for not giving away 2% of his billions to literally end world hunger in 2022. Musk’s response was quick: provide a detailed and transparent plan, and he will do it. He also asked Beasley to address 2015 reports that UN officers in the Central African Republic withheld food from people, asking for favors in return.

Netflix announces 5\-part docuseries on the SpaceX Dragon mission Inspiration4
Photo: Netflix
The issue of solving world hunger or, even more, of saving our planet, is not a black and white one. If it were that easy to solve, they’d had been solved already, and maybe Gates himself would have donated the money for it.

We’re free to discuss, debate and disagree with either stance. What a person does with their money is their business, and public opinion won’t influence that. Musk believes he’s helping humanity by pushing for electric transportation on Earth and paving the way for the colonization of Mars. On the other hand, Gates is convinced that vaccines make a difference in this seemingly-impossible quest.

Instead of focusing on who is right, we should see this for what it is. It’s a petty – but entertaining – feud between two billionaires trying to outdo each other. We could all benefit more from Musk and Gates’ respective efforts if they worked together.

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Editor's note: For illustration purposes, photos in the gallery are of SpaceX's Inspiration4, the world’s first all civilian mission to low earth orbit.

About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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