Elon Musk, the visionary head of SpaceX, has announced that he wants to land humans on Mars within the next nine years.
Speaking at the Code Conference June 1, Musk said he plans to send astronauts to the Red Planet in 2024 so they can land on its surface the following year.
“We’re establishing cargo flights to Mars that people can count on,” he said at the conference. “The Earth-Mars orbital rendezvous is only every 26 months, so there’ll be one in 2018; there’ll be another one in 2020. And I think if things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people probably in 2024 with arrival in 2025.”
This 26-month window he mentions is the prime time to launch rockets to Mars, since it’s when the two planets’ orbits bring then tens of millions of miles closer together.
Musk’s 2025 goal is more ambitious than any country’s.
NASA, for example, wants to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. China plans to send its first rovers by 2020, but the nation hasn’t announced a date for human exploration yet. Meanwhile the European Space Agency and Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) also haven’t set goals for human Mars landings, but they could both likely work with NASA to get there.
There is reason to believe Musk could get it done. Each time SpaceX launches one of its rockets — and continues to successfully land parts (so the company can save millions by reusing them) — it gets one step closer to making this lofty Mars goal a more affordable-looking reality.
“Hopefully, by the end of this year, we’ll be launching Falcon Heavy, which will be the most powerful rocket in the world by more than a factor of two,” Musk said at the conference. “Falcon Heavy will be on the order of 5 million pounds of thrust on liftoff, which is about two-thirds the size of the Saturn V.”
Saturn V was the rocket that took the astronauts to the moon. In a poetic twist, Musk said Falcon Heavy will even take off from the same launchpad in Merritt Island, Florida.
That launchpad, after all, is a place for making history.
You can watch more of what Musk said at the conference in this playlist: