Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX: We could send people to Mars as early as 2024

Red Dragon spacecraft on the surface of Mars image credit SpaceX posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: SpaceX

Humans on Mars as early as 2024: That is the timeline that CEO and Founder Elon Musk believes is achievable if everything goes according to plan with the ambitions that he has set for his NewSpace company, SpaceX.

At Code Conference 2016, an event sponsored by Recode and Vox Media this week near Los Angeles, Musk talked about a range of things, including SpaceX’s ambitions for Mars. In the June 1 interview, he reiterated the architecture for sending people to the Red Planet will be unveiled at the September International Astronomical Congress (IAC) in Mexico City. In the meantime, he gave a few hints of what his company might be able to offer in the coming years.


Elon Musk talks about some of the company’s ambitions regarding Mars at Code Conference 2016. Photo Credit: Recode

“We’re going to send a mission to Mars with every Mars opportunity from 2018 onward,” Musk said, “We’re establishing cargo flights to Mars that people can count on for cargo. The Earth-Mars orbital rendezvous is only ever 26 months. There’s one in 2018. They’ll be another one in 2020.”

Musk and SpaceX revealed in April the company’s plans to send a modified version of the company’s Crew Dragon capsule, called Red Dragon, to the surface of Mars as early as 2018.

“If things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people probably in 2024 with arrival in 2025,” Musk said.

Musk said that in order to begin establishing a city on Mars, a large amount of cargo would be needed, and so too a big rocket—the Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT). It seems like the first crew SpaceX would send to the surface of the Red Planet might be on the MCT.

A Dragon capsule, while capable of landing science and cargo on Mars, would not be suitable for people traveling to the rust-colored world. Musk said the transit time would be a long time to spend in a space the size of a small SUV.

“It also doesn’t have the capability to get back to Earth,” Musk said, so much laughter in the audience.

For people, MCT would be needed. Musk said it would be bigger than the Saturn V.

“This will be a very big rocket,” he said. When asked how big, he just said, “September”—referring to the IAC conference.

While SpaceX has partnered with NASA in an unfunded agreement for technical support in exchange for data regarding the landing on many metric tons on the surface of Mars, it is unclear if the company will continue to partner with NASA on future Mars missions.

NASA has a goal to send people to Mars sometime in the mid-2030s—to orbit with a landing some years later. The agency’s plan calls for a huge Saturn V class rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS).

The first SLS launch with NASA’s Orion capsule, uncrewed, is expected in late 2018. The first crewed flight of the SLS-Orion stack is expected no earlier than 2021—possibly 2023. Additionally, a number of robotic probes will be sent by the agency and its partners throughout the 2020s.

SpaceX’s long-term goal has always been Mars. Musk originally wanted to buy a rocket to send a greenhouse to the red-colored world. He felt that an image of life on Mars—albeit Earth life—would generate support for NASA. He canceled this philanthropic mission in favor of creating SpaceX to reduce launch costs, something the company is well in the process of doing.

In the last few years, the famed CEO has said that the reason for sending people to Mars is to help make humanity a multi-planetary species.

“That’s the future that’s exciting and inspiring,” Musk said, “You need things like that to be glad to wake up in the morning. Life can’t be just about solving problems. There have to be things that are inspiring and exciting to make you glad to be alive.”

Video courtesy of Recode


Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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