Elon Musk Wants to Send People to Mars by 2024

SpaceX CEO also lets slip that he wouldn't mind dying on the Red Planet. Someday.

Elon Musk Mars
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

If it's a day that ends in Y, then Elon Musk must be in the news. While speaking at Recode's Code Conference on June 1, Musk doubled down on his company SpaceX's interplanetary intentions, saying he could see launching a manned mission to Mars in as little as eight years.

"If things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people in 2024, with arrival in 2025," he said.

That timetable would put SpaceX well ahead of NASA, which has stated it aims to land humans on Mars somewhere in the 2030s or 2040s. It would also mean Musk's space company would reach Mars even earlier than Lockheed Martin's pipe dream of a mission, which seeks to put a manned ship in orbit around the planet for several months by 2028.

Whether Musk's industrious start-up can outrun America's national space program and one of the keystones of the nation's military-industrial complex to the Red Planet remains to be seen, however. The manned version of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft isn't expected to fly for another two to three years, and the first unmanned, Mars-capable Red Dragon craft is expected to leave Earth in 2018. Combining the two into a manned ship capable of sustaining a human crew in deep space in a mere six years would be tough even for the mastermind who made electric cars cool.

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Musk says he thinks it's feasible, though. "When I cite a schedule, it is actually the schedule I think is true," he said during the talk. "It may be delusional. That is entirely possible from time to time. But it's never some knowingly fake deadline ever."

But while simply putting boots on the Martian ground may be Musk's short-term goal, in the long run, he wants to see humankind live and thrive on the Red Planet. "I think what really matters is being able to transport large numbers of people and ultimately millions of tons of cargo to Mars," he said. "And that's what's necessary in order to create a self-sustaining, but a growing city on Mars."

In fact, Musk said he could see himself settling down on Mars—forever. "I think if you're going to choose a place to die, then Mars is probably not a bad choice," he said.

The SpaceX CEO plans to reveal further details about his company's Martian plans—including the design of the Mars Colonial Transporter, the reusable space ship he claims will eventually carry 100 people to the Red Planet per trip—at this September's International Astronomical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. Until then, we'll have to wait with baited breath for more news...and hope SpaceX doesn't suffer any Tesla-like problems.