SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told a gathering in Mexico on Tuesday that the company is aiming to commence manned missions to Mars as soon as 2022.
During the highly-anticipated presentation, which resembled the launch of a new tech product and can be viewed here, one of the world’s most innovative CEOs shared his vision for building a Mars-bound spacecraft capable of holding around 100 people. It would be powered by a reusable booster, similar to ones already successfully tested by SpaceX, only on a much larger scale.
“What I really want to try to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible—make it seem as though it’s something we can achieve in our lifetimes,” Musk said after taking the stage to enthusiastic cheering and applause.
According to the South African-born entrepreneur, who is also the founder of electric car company Tesla Motors, history is going to go down one of two fundamental paths.
“One path is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be some eventual extinction event,” he said. “The alternative is to become a space faring civilization and a multiplanetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go.”
So Musk doesn’t just want to stop at manned missions. He wants to build cities on Mars, estimating that, from the time the first ship arrives, it would take between 40 and 100 years to establish a fully self-sustaining population of 1 million people.
Funding the project is an obvious challenge: Musk said that based loosely on expenses associated with the Apollo missions, an optimistic cost number of sending someone to Mars would be about $10 billion per person.
Musk said costs could be brought down to a goal of around $200,000, in part, by reusing rockets, refilling in orbit and developing propellant on Mars.
The billionaire said he was prepared to spend his own money on the project, while suggesting revenue could be raised by launching commercial satellites and supporting the International Space Station.
Whether the 45-year-old father of five would be prepared to risk his life by boarding the first spacecraft is unclear, though.
“I’ve got to make sure that if something goes wrong on the flight and I die then there’s a good succession plan—and that the mission of the company continues and that it doesn’t get taken over by investors who just want to maximize the profitability of the company,” Musk said.
And the risk of death on the first mission will be indeed be “very high”, he said.
“Are you prepared to die? [If so,] then you’re a candidate for going.”