Elon Musk just said that his SpaceX spaceships will get humans to Mars by 2026, with or without NASA. It may seem cocky, but coming from a man who has built this entire company so he can die on Mars—and to "help ensure the survival of humanity"—those words are not to be taken lightly.
I think it's certainly possible for that to occur. But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multi-planetary.
A self-sustaining city... I like that he's thinking big. I also like that he is conscious of the challenges that lie ahead, but confident that these targets are possible. He will be 50 years old by the time this hypothetical mission launches, giving him plenty of time to go there and complete his life dream. That kind of drive and commitment is too personal to ignore. People who are mad enough to think in these terms—and have the necessary means—are the people who can make the seemingly impossible happen.
SpaceX already has the Falcon Heavy rocket in development, which has the power to lift the kind of load needed for a Mars mission and first settlement. It's expected to launch next year.
They are also working on Dragon V2, which is clearly designed with the idea of Mars (and Moon) landings thanks to a vertical rocket-based landing system that will allow for immediate fuel reload and relaunch.
While Dragon V2 won't be the ship that will arrive to Mars, V3 will probably be the one. Space fans are already dreaming about this spaceship:
A fan sketch for a possible—albeit far-fetched—Mars vehicle.
Who will pay for it?
But who's going to pay for his Mars dream? According to Musk, future stockholders will. It's something ballsy, but he's confident that once they demonstrate the reality, people will long-term investment goals will buy in:
We need to get where things are steady and predictable. Maybe we're close to developing the Mars vehicle, or ideally we've flown it a few times, then I think going public would make more sense.
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