Elon Musk: ‘I’m Hopeful That The First People Can Be Taken To Mars in 10, 12 Years’

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, is a hot topic in the media these days. He recently unveiled a manned version of his successful Dragon spacecraft. He’s talking about retrieving the first stage of his Falcon 9 rocket, a feat that has never been accomplished.

Last night (June 18), Musk spoke on CNBC because his company was named #1 to the cable network’s second annual Disrupter 50 list. You can watch portions of the interview here and we’ve isolated the space-related parts below based on the transcript from CNBC (which does not exactly match Musk’s words, but is pretty close.)

And Musk is still a big fan of Mars exploration, as he says in the interview he hopes to see people walk on the planet in 10-12 years.

On attempting to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch six Orbcomm satellites on Friday, if the weather holds (it is only 30% go according to local news reports):

Essentially what I was alluding to a moment ago was is to be able to recover the rocket booster and then refly it. That’s the revolutionary potential. Now we have been trying to do that for 12 years, and haven’t yet succeeded. But I feel as though we are finally close to achieving it. We have a shot with the next launch of recovering the rocket booster. If not with this launch, I think a very good chance later this year, and then potentially to refly the booster next year. This would really mark a significant change in the technology of rocketry.

'Threading the needle', the Falcon 9/Dragon vehicle passes through the catenary lightning wires as it roars from the pad on the CRS-3 mission.  Credit: nasatech.net
‘Threading the needle’, the Falcon 9/Dragon vehicle passes through the catenary lightning wires as it roars from the pad on the CRS-3 mission. Credit: nasatech.net

Musck also spoke on what would happen if SpaceX does not get the next round of commercial crew funding from NASA. The company is right now being funded along with Boeing (CST-100) and Sierra Nevada (Dream Chaser), but NASA is still figuring out how many companies it can afford to back in the next stage, which will be announced later this year. Musk revealed the manned prototype version of its Dragon spacecraft to great media fanfare in late May.

First of all, I should acknowledge the critical role NASA played in the success of SpaceX. We wouldn’t be are where we are without the help of NASA. And it’s possible we may not win the commercial crew contract. We certainly have done that we can for our part. And I think we have got a great design solution. If NASA in the end doesn’t go with us, because also we are competing with big established companies like Boeing, then we’ll do our best to continue on our own with our own money. […]

Well it definitely would slow us down, but we would keep going and we should keep launching commercial satellites. We have an existing contract to transfer…from the space station so we would keep going. It just would be slower.

Elon Musk seated inside Dragon V2 explaining consoles at unveiling on May 29, 2014. Credit: SpaceX
Elon Musk seated inside Dragon V2 explaining consoles at unveiling on May 29, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

Musk on how quickly he wants to see humans on Mars:

This is a very difficult thing, obviously. I’m hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10, 12 years. I think it’s certainly possible for that to occur. The thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars. To make life multi-planetary. That will define a fundamental bifurcation of the future of human civilization. We’ll either be a multi-planet species and out there among the stars, or a single-planet species until some eventual extinction event, natural or man-made.

Why it’s difficult to get public funding right now:

The incentive structure tends to be short-term. You can trace it back to people that own the stocks, portfolio managers. They are evaluated on a quarterly basis, or at least an annual basis. They push companies to produce results on a quarterly or annual basis. With SpaceX we are trying to develop technology that will ultimately be able to take large numbers of people to Mars. That’s really difficult to get portfolio managers. It’s beyond their tenure in owning the stock. So it is difficult to ask them to like that.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule on approach to the ISS during the COTS 2 mission. Credit: NASA.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule on approach to the ISS during the COTS 2 mission. Credit: NASA.

Which is harder, getting people to Mars or building a car battery that costs less than $5,000 (which is an oblique reference to Musk’s Tesla line of vehicles):

I think, probably, Mars. The car battery certainly is hard. I’m quite optimistic, though, about improvements in the battery price or the cost of the battery. The fundamental cost. We have daily meetings with Panasonic, our key development partner, on this. I am really feeling quite good about being able to produce a compelling mass market car in about three years.

What would be a “truly disruptive” technology:

I mean, at this point, human life span is mostly about old age. It’s not about cancer or anything else. If you cured cancer, I think the average life expectancy would increase from two years. You would go from 80 to 82, or something like that. We just have a genetic life span. It’s kind of like if you take a fruit fly and gave it the best exercise and diet possible, the perfect life. Maybe it will live four weeks instead of three weeks. Genetics just drives a lot of these things. So for something to be truly disruptive on that front, you would want to do something with genetics. I don’t have much involvement there. Or any involvement, really.

15 Replies to “Elon Musk: ‘I’m Hopeful That The First People Can Be Taken To Mars in 10, 12 Years’”

  1. Serious question. If Musk were to be the first person to land humans on Mars as a private citizen/corporation could he then claim Mars as his own? For example governments are by treaty prevent from claiming outer space and other planets as their own territory hence the US has no claim over the moon. Does that apply to ordinary individuals or can Musk claim exclusive territorial and mineral rights over any planet his company visits?

    1. So long as SpaceX is a US Corporation, subject to the laws of the United States, it is obligated to conform to all treaties to which the United States is a signatory. So Musk cannot make territorial claims on Mars.

    2. Check out “homesteading”. That is the concept which made the US the greatest nation ever. It is very intuitive and natural and independent of what some guy who sits in a white house says about what other people must do.

  2. The “If we don’t win the contract” discussion is interesting. Perhaps Musk perceives that Boeing, with their inside connections, are likely to win.

  3. Trying to get to Mars, creates new technology.
    That in turn could make investors rich even if you never reach Mars.

  4. If you had asked me forty years ago, I would have said “I’m hopeful that the first human colony can be on the moon in 10, 12 years.” That didn’t happen either.

    1. Forty years ago, we were like a 16 year-old kid in a nightclub. We got in but we weren’t ready. A lot things were way over our heads, but I think we’re ready now. I think we’re reaching 18.

  5. Let’s consider that Musk achieves a human Mars landing.
    Elon Musk is an American citizen, not by birth but because it was his dream to become one.
    If he is the first sponsor to attain Mars then it would seem he would have the right to claim Mars for himself OR for the U.S.
    If history is any guide, humanity is in for one helluva fight once others begin landing on the fourth planet. If we don’t wipe ourselves out here, then maybe we will there.
    What effect would that have on Earth?

  6. If Boeing wins my money (if I had any) would still be on Musk.
    He has proven to be a master of end-around runs.

  7. When SpaceX perfects it’s booster return design, makes that a reality, they will definitely have an edge on the competition. But don’t count on this advantage to be long lived. The competition is no doubt keeping a close eye on SpaceX’s every move. The BIG players, like Boeing, ATK and Morton-Thiokol Inc. have deep pockets and a history of greasing the works on the hill with cold hard cash and other party favors to get at government contracts. That unfair advantage these traditional ‘cold warrior corporations’ have is due to a long history making giga-bucks building ICBM’s and other ‘war toys’ during that era. The ongoing and intimate institutional gerrymandering their lobbyists pursue is what they do to ensure continued profits. Two words – BIG LOBBY

    Lets hope that Mr. Musk has some really good body guards… and his angels are keeping an eye on hims…. ~*~

    1. I think Mr. Musk would love to see competitors make space flight even cheaper than he can. But there’s little chance for that. Big old space companies like Boeing live off government money. And because government is nothing but middlemen paying with other peoples money, their aim is to maximize costs. The larger payments, the better for the middlemen who handle the payments. The logic of political evolution is that those who maximize costs (paid by others) maximize their own money and power. Those who cut costs cut themselves. SLS is a prime example of political success because it costs so much. The fact that it will never fly is politically irrelevant. The politicians behind it have enriched and empowered themselves, their influence will increase for the future and they will repeat this political triumph of cost maximization.

  8. Elon has sued the US Gov to enable him to compete in the rocket engine market. I would like to hear from him how soon he would enable the US to stop requiring Russian engines? He must think he can compete in that market or why file suit. IMO this is much more a priority now than any trip to Mars in 10+ years.

    1. Now, actually. The air force has been in the process of certifying his rocket but kept delaying. He thinks it’s intentional. That was why he sued.

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