Technological guru and all-around badass Elon Musk revealed in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday that SpaceX is planning to put humans on the surface of Mars by 2026; nearly a decade before NASA.
"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he said on the show Closing Bell. "But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multi-planetary.”
SpaceX is currently vying for government contracts, in hopes that NASA will select the Dragon V2 spacecraft to bring up to seven astronauts at a time to the ISS. Though the Dragon V2 vessel is highly innovative and will be much more cost-effective than spacecraft currently in use, the fact that SpaceX is a relative newcomer is a disadvantage. SpaceX is competing against companies like Boeing, who have established reputations and much more experience.
Though gaining the NASA contract would be great for the company’s financial security, getting passed up would slow SpaceX’s developments, not stop them. "It's possible that we may not win the commercial crew contract,” Musk acknowledges. “We'll do our best to continue on our own, with our own money.” He also adds that there are no hard feelings toward NASA if SpaceX doesn’t get the contract. "We would not be where we are today without the help of NASA,” he said.
Back in 2012, Musk began talking about the possibility of commercial round-trip tickets to Mars for $500,000 each. Quite a bargain, compared to the $150 million Space Adventures will charge to go circle the moon. Before price per ticket to the red planet is worked out, SpaceX will first need to finish the equipment that is capable of making the trip.
Currently, SpaceX is developing the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, which is similar to their Falcon 9, with the addition of twin booster rockets which make it capable of bringing an incredible payload to space, making a Mars mission more feasible. The Falcon Heavy will begin test launches in 2015. While getting there and back seems doable enough, SpaceX doesn’t currently have a craft that is able to land and relaunch from the Martian surface, as NASA did on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions. It may very well turn out that the earliest SpaceX missions to Mars will orbit the red planet and not land on the surface.
In the interview, Musk also teased the idea of SpaceX becoming a publicly traded company, though not in the immediate future. "We need to get where things a steady and predictable,” he said. "Maybe [when] we’re close to developing the Mars vehicle, or ideally [after] we've flown it a few times, then I think going public would make more sense.” Let us know when you have those ducks in a row, Mr. Musk. We’ll be eagerly waiting.