SpaceX’s president may have even bigger goals than Elon Musk does — she called Mars a ‘fixer-upper planet’

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell YouTube/TED 2018
  • SpaceXPresident and COO Gwynne Shotwell spoke at the 2018 TED Conference in Vancouver on Wednesday.
  • Shotwell said SpaceX will put humans on Mars “within a decade for sure” – a longer timeline than Elon Musk has promised.
  • She said Mars is an important backup to have in case something happens to Earth, but described it as a “fixer-upper.”
  • Shotwell also said she wants SpaceX to travel to other solar systems .

At the 2018 TED Conference on Wednesday, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell seemed for the first time to express an even grander vision than Elon Musk’s plan to colonize Mars.

Speaking to the crowd, Shotwell said she won’t be content to land a SpaceX rocket on Mars, or even to reach more distant planets like Saturn or Pluto. Instead, she revealed that she ultimately hopes to meet up with whoever’s out there in other solar systems.

“This is the first time I might out-vision Elon,” she said of the SpaceX founder.

Musk has said before that SpaceX could travel beyond Mars to far reaches of this solar system by using a series of planetary “filling stations” that could extend all the way to Pluto. But Shotwell said she doesn’t want to stop there.

She’s ready to travel to other parts of the galaxy, she said, adding that her ultimate goal is to find people “or whatever they call themselves” in an entirely separate solar system.

That’s much farther than Musk has ever said he wants to go. But first, the company needs to land on Mars. And when it comes to putting people on the Red Planet, Shotwell is much more conservative about her timelines than Musk has been.

Musk has said that uncrewed SpaceX ships will fly to Mars by 2022, and humans will be on red-planet-bound missions just two years later, in 2024. But Shotwell offered a slightly longer timeline at TED, saying the company will have humans on Mars “within a decade for sure.”

“That’s Gwynne time. I’m sure Elon wants to go faster,” she said.

Shotwell said that exploring Mars isn’t just for kicks, echoing what Musk has said about the need for a backup planet – a kind of Martian life-raft for humanity.

“If something were to happen on Earth, you need humans living somewhere else,” she said. “I think you need multiple paths to survival, and this is one of them.”

But that doesn’t mean she’s excited about the conditions there.

“Mars is fine, but it’s a fixer-upper planet,” Shotwell said.

With an average surface temperature of around -81˚F and harsh Martian winds, it would be extremely challenging for humans to survive on the red planet. Before landing there, the first problem to tackle is how SpaceX might keep humans alive for the trip to Mars, a journey that will likely take more than 80 days.

But Shotwell said once those questions are answered, Mars won’t be the final stop for SpaceX.