An illustration of a woman orbiting Mars inside a SpaceX vehicle. Elon Musk/SpaceX
Elon Musk said he’s “definitely going to be dead” before humans reach Mars unless innovation speeds up.
The SpaceX CEO made the comments on Monday while speaking to attendees of the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, DC.
Musk said the biggest obstacle is designing and building a large and “rapidly reusable” rocket.
SpaceX founder and CEO and Elon Musk thinks society needs to pick up the pace if he has any chance of setting foot on Mars.
“If we don’t improve our pace of progress, I’m definitely going to be dead before we go,” Musk told attendees of the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, DC, on Monday.
Musk’s forecast was in response to a question about how he’s passing his vision along to the next generation of space explorers. “I hope I’m not dead,” Musk said before acknowledging that he’s not confident humans will complete a mission to Mars while he’s still alive without innovating faster.
The biggest technological obstacle, according to Musk, is building a reusable rocket with enough capacity to carry the things humans would need on a Mars mission.
“There’s really just one thing that matters, and that is a fully and rapidly reusable rocket,” Musk said, adding that “it needs to be reasonably big.”
SpaceX is working toward that goal with its Starship rocket prototypes, which the company hopes to start launching in the coming months. Musk has said the Starship will be fully reusable and stand at nearly 400 feet tall, making it capable of carrying about 100 tons of cargo along with 100 people.
Sending a rocket into space is enormously expensive. Musk’s estimates have put the launch of each Starship rocket at about $2 million — and he’s aiming to launch up to three per day, with plans to eventually build one every 72 hours until the company has a fleet of 1,000.
That means the rockets need to be able to carry enough per trip to justify the massive costs.
“You have a container ship with thousands of containers,” Musk said. “You don’t have a bunch of tiny ships with little outboard [motors] on them cruising across the Pacific. That would be silly.”
While humans may have mastered transoceanic voyages, SpaceX is still far from translating that progress into orbital trips. In late February, the company’s Starship SN1 prototype imploded on the launchpad.