“We’ve recently made a number of breakthroughs that I am just really just fired up about,” Musk said during an interview with “Axios on HBO.”
Musk’s remarks are the latest in bold announcements that have defined his career in recent years, including his desire to transform the auto industry with electric vehicles made by his company Tesla and his goal of colonizing Earth’s neighboring planet.
SpaceX aspires to send its first cargo mission to Mars in 2022, according to its website, with a manned mission targeted for 2024. Musk announced last week that the company has renamed its massive Mars vessel the Starship (it was previously dubbed the Big Falcon Rocket). The rocket boosters that will allow the vehicle to escape Earth’s gravity are called the Super Heavy.
NASA, too, has ambitions to send humans to Mars, though sometime in the 2030s. China is also expanding its space program with the goal of launching a Mars probe around 2020. Scientists are interested in going to Mars for a host of reasons, including learning more about the origins of life and better understanding the rise and collapse of potentially life-supporting environments.
The planet was not always the desert world that it appears to be today. Its now empty lakes and channels suggest liquid water once flowed at the surface, which may indicate that a thicker atmosphere once enveloped the planet, perhaps supporting life. But scientists see Mars as a “failed planet,” with conditions hostile to humans.
During the interview, Musk compared the proposition to colonize Mars to explorer Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions to Antarctica.
He said the price of a ticket to Mars would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with no guarantee of return or even survival during the trip or upon landing. But despite the daunting journey, Musk sees a worthwhile trade-off.
“You know there’s lots of people who climb mountains. You know why do they climb mountains? People die on Mount Everest all the time,” he said. “They like doing it for the challenge.”
Earlier this year, SpaceX pledged to advance its space exploration efforts by revealing the identity of its first paying tourist who would take a trip around the moon. In 2023, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and six to eight artists are tentatively scheduled to fly to the moon on a week-long trip. Their vehicle, the nearly 400-foot-tall Starship, is still in development and is slated to complete its first flights to orbit in two to three years.
But SpaceX and Musk’s interplanetary plans have seen setbacks. The company recently announced a delay in its initial mission to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX also delayed its plans to fly tourists around the moon.
Musk has also drawn scrutiny for his personal behavior. Last week, NASA ordered a safety review of SpaceX after Musk participated in a popular podcast, in which he smoked marijuana and drank whiskey on an episode streamed online. Musk’s actions rankled some of NASA’s top officials, and, in a months-long assessment, the agency is examining at SpaceX’s culture.
NASA will also conduct a safety review of Boeing, another company under contract with NASA to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.