Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, took part in a surprise question and answer session during the South by Southwest festival, saying that he anticipates his project timeline for sending a spacecraft to the Red Planet could reach its first major milestone in early 2019. The privately-funded venture aims to send a cargo mission to Mars by 2022.
The SXSW festival took place in Austin, Texas, and Musk fielded some questions on Sunday about his work.
Musk told festival attendees that “we are building the first Mars, or interplanetary ship,” and that the vehicle should be ready for “short trips” by the “first half of next year.”
However, possibly as a means of keeping expectations from getting too high, Musk also hedged a bit on the topic.
“Although sometimes, my timelines are a little, you know…” he stated with some laughter.
The SpaceX BFR rocket system is anticipated to have the needed capabilities for interplanetary travel and to be fully reusable, according to a report by CNBC. A flight is also expected to cost less than the initial Falcon 1 flights, which were estimated at $5 to $6 million by Musk.
“The biggest thing that would be helpful is just general support and encouragement and goodwill,” said Musk. “I think once we build it we’ll have a point of proof, something that other companies and countries can go and do.”
“They certainly don’t think it’s possible,” he added, “but, if we do, they’ll up their game.”
Musk hopes to send a cargo mission to Mars with the primary objective of planting seeds for future human colonization of the Red Planet.
He noted that Mars would need a significant amount of infrastructure, including everything from glass domes to power stations to the fundamentals of basic living. Once that is complete, “then, really, the explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity [begins], because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints.”