Photo/IllutrationThis image from video provided by SpaceX shows the company's spacesuit in Elon Musk's red Tesla sports car which was launched into space during the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket on Feb. 6. (SpaceX via AP)

Back in 1956, a Japanese organization started taking reservations from people who were interested in purchasing land on Mars.

Called "Nihon Uchu Ryoko Kyokai" (Japan space travel association), its members included mystery fiction writer Ranpo Edogawa (1894-1965) and multitalented showbiz personality Musei Tokugawa (1894-1971).

This was no flaky publicity stunt. The association charged a fee for the issuance of reservation slips for 100,000 "tsubo" (roughly 330,000 square meters) of land on Mars.

According to "Daitoa Kagaku Kidan" (Strange tales of Greater East Asian science) by Hiroshi Aramata, the reservation slips listed the qualities required of anyone planning to become Martians, such as "respect for science, love of fine arts, generosity, selflessness, sense of fellowship" and so on.

An impressive 1,800 people signed up in two months, and the association even held a rooftop event called "Kasei Jinushi Taikai" (Mars landowners' meeting).

Back in the days before a single successful satellite launch, this big-scale display of whimsy must have greatly amused many people.

More than six decades have elapsed since, but the colonization of Mars must still be something of a joke to most people today--save for U.S. entrepreneur Elon Musk.

On Feb. 7, Musk's company launched a new giant rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Called the Falcon Heavy, the rocket outscales anything currently operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Having started out as a venture business owner, Musk now is calling for the establishment of a human colony of 1 million souls on Mars, insisting this is indispensable if the "risk of human extinction" is to be reduced.

Born in South Africa, Musk relocated to the United States to advance his career. While in university there, he recalled, he identified three areas that he thought would most affect the future of humanity: the Internet, sustainable energy and the extension of human life beyond Earth.

Having founded an online payment company and Tesla, Inc. that specializes in electric automotives, Musk is now venturing into space.

There are people providing funding and technology to visionaries imbued with wild fancy, turning the latter into reality.

How would a young person like Musk fare in Japan? I wonder how many adults would hear him out before they dismiss him with derision.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.