Musk: Still Looking to Launch BFR to Mars in 2024

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Kara Swisher of Recode posted an interview with Elon Musk last week. Below are lightly edited excepts concerning SpaceX and Musk’s plans for Mars.

Well let’s get to rockets, then. SpaceX. Last time we talked, you said you wanted to die on Mars, just not on landing. Which was a very funny joke, although it’s probably not a joke, it’s probably —

Well, it’d be ironic if that had happened. I have to be careful about tempting fate, because I think often the most ironic outcome is the most probable….

Instead of discussing your death, let’s discuss what’s going on at SpaceX. What are some of the things you’re doing?

We successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. So that’s twice the power, twice the thrust of the next biggest rocket. And we actually launched a Tesla — my Tesla Roadster — to Mars orbit. The reason we did that is actually because, normally, when a new rocket is launched, you just put a dummy payload, which is like a block of concrete or something.

Right. Not creative in any way.

Super-boring. So we were like, okay, what is the least boring thing we can launch?

And then next year, the exciting things are we’re gonna be launching astronauts for the first time to the space station. It’ll really be the first time a vehicle from the United States launches astronauts into orbit since the Space Shuttle….

What do you think of the Space Force? The Trump Space Force?

Well, this may be a little controversial, but I actually like the idea. I think it’s cool. You know, like, when the Air Force was formed, there was a lot of like pooh-poohing, and like, “Oh, how silly to have an Air Force!” You know, because the aircraft in World War II were managed by the Army.


And so you had the Army and the Navy and the Coast Guard and the Marines, and then … it became pretty obvious that you really needed a specialized division to manage aircraft. And so the Air Force was created.

And people today may not realize back then it was wildly panned as a ridiculous thing to create the Air Force, but now everyone’s like, “Obviously, you should have an Air Force.” And I think it’s gonna become obvious that we should have a Space Force, too.

Out there, to do what?

You know, it’s basically defense in space. And then I think also it could be pretty helpful for maybe expanding our civilization … You know, expanding things beyond Earth.

I think we could just have a base on the moon, for example. A base on Mars. Be great to expand on the idea of a Space Force. Anyone who has an exploratory spirit, and I think that especially applies to a country like the United States, where you know it’s kind of the distillation of the spirit of human exploration. I think the idea of being out there among the stars and among the planets is very exciting.

All right. And, Mars. Last time we talked, it was 2024, was it? That you talked about getting there?

Yeah, we’re still aiming for 2024.

Okay. And you going? Or someone going?

I don’t know if I will go or not. It may be just an unmanned mission, you know. I’m not sure if there’ll be people onboard or not.

But there is a Mars rendezvous opportunity, ’cause you can only do a launch to Mars roughly every two years. So around the 2024 timeframe, there’s a rendezvous opportunity for Mars, which hopefully we can catch. There’s one in 2022 —

So an unmanned flight to Mars?

Hopefully, there are people on board. But I think there’s a pretty good chance of at least having an unmanned craft go to Mars. I think we will try to do this.

Do you think NASA should continue to exist, or all these space agencies by the government?

Yeah, I certainly think NASA should continue to exist, NASA does a lot of really useful things, and these go beyond astronaut transport. There are missions to rovers on Mars that are thanks to NASA. There are these planetary probes, there’s the Hubble Telescope. NASA does a tremendous amount of good, and ideally we should actually increase the budget of NASA. I think it’s high time that we went beyond Earth orbit again. I think it’s very exciting and inspiring, and I think it really gets the whole world fired up.

When the first humans stepped foot on the Moon, it was probably the most inspiring thing, maybe in history? We should try to do more of that stuff.

How do you look at what [Jeff] Bezos is doing with Blue Origin, because I suppose that’s the most comparable private thing going on?

Yeah, I think it’s great that Jeff is spending lots of money on space. I think it will encounter some challenges getting to orbit; it’s remarkably difficult getting to orbit. But he has the resources to overcome those difficulties. He’s got some spare change in the couch, I think.