Elon Musk still has high hopes of landing people on Mars within the next decade. During a talk at Recode's Code Conference last night, the SpaceX CEO said he envisions sending people to Mars as early as 2024, with a subsequent arrival and landing scheduled for 2025. He also hinted at a desire to eventually live out his days on the Red Planet himself. "I think if you're going to choose a place to die, then Mars is probably not a bad choice," said Musk.
In April, SpaceX announced plans to send uncrewed spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018, to test out ways to land on the Red Planet. And once those missions get started, Musk said SpaceX won't stop transporting cargo, and even people, to Mars for the foreseeable future. "We're going to send a mission to Mars with every Mars opportunity from 2018 onwards," said Musk. "And they occur approximately every 26 months." That's when Earth and Mars are the closest together in orbit.
"I think if you're going to choose a place to die, then Mars is probably not a bad choice."
Musk didn't divulge too many concrete details about his Mars colonization plans. Mostly, he noted that starting a colony will involve sending a lot of people and a lot of hardware. "I think what really matters is being able to transport large numbers of people and ultimately millions of tons of cargo to Mars," said Musk. "And that's what's necessary in order to create a self-sustaining, but a growing city on Mars." Musk added that he plans to reveal the full extent of his Mars colonization ideas in September at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, an annual meeting of major leaders in the space industry.
Sending people to Mars within the next 10 years is an extremely ambitious schedule, especially given that NASA doesn't plan on sending people to Mars until at least the 2030s. But later in the talk, Musk addressed his penchant for ambitious deadlines. "When I cite a schedule, it is actually the schedule I think is true," said Musk. "It's not some fake schedule that I don't think is true. It may be delusional. That is entirely possible from time to time. But it's never some knowingly fake deadline ever."
Musk also addressed SpaceX's more near-term aspirations, such as the ongoing quest to land and reuse the company's Falcon 9 rockets. The CEO gave an explanation about why the company continues to land its rockets on drone ships at sea, rather than on solid ground (which we also explain here). He said that the returned rockets are looking "quite good" despite the crazy journeys they go through to get back to Earth. And we can expect the first used Falcon 9 to fly very soon. "We plan to re-fly one of the landed rocket boosters hopefully in about two or three months," said Musk.
The first demonstration launch of the Falcon Heavy is still on track for this year
The first demonstration launch of the Falcon Heavy, a much more powerful version of the Falcon 9, is also still on track to occur by the end of this year, according to Musk. The rocket was originally supposed to debut in 2012, but has been consistently delayed since then — something Musk also addressed. "It's not like we had a lot of pressing customers who wanted us to launch it," he said. "In fact the first launch will not have any operational satellites. It will be a demonstration launch. And the first operational flights where customers actually want us to launch it are next year."
Additionally, SpaceX's Dragon Version 2 will be debuting soon sometime next year. Dragon V2 is an updated version of the Dragon cargo capsule that the company uses to transport supplies to and from the International Space Station. But Dragon V2 will be tasked with carrying much more precious cargo to the ISS: people. It's also the same spacecraft the company intends to send to Mars in 2018. "Dragon 2 is a propulsive lander as well, and it's intended to carry astronauts to the space station, but it's also capable of being a general science delivery platform to anywhere in the Solar System," said Musk.
Musk also addressed SpaceX's launch schedule for the rest of the year, reiterating that the company is trying to launch with much more frequency than usual. After suffering a rocket failure last June, SpaceX grounded flights for six months, which created a long backlog. "We're trying to get them out as quickly as we can," said Musk. "The launches will take place every two to four weeks. It's quite a high launch cadence."