Elon Musk says his Space X company will have rockets capable of travelling to Mars by the first half of 2019.
Mr Musk said while the interplanetary rockets won’t be capable of getting anyone to Mars in the short term, they would be able to make short test flights with a lift-off thrust twice that of a Saturn 5, the NASA rocket at the heart of the Apollo moon program.
“That will prove to other companies and countries that it can be done, providing the impetus for them to go and do it themselves,” he said.
“They currently don’t think it’s possible, so if we show them that it is, they’ll up their game and build interplanetary transport vehicles, as well.”
SpaceX last month launched its Falcon Heavy rocket with a payload that included Mr Musk’s red Tesla convertible.
Mr Musk said a tremendous amount of entrepreneurial resources would be needed to launch a manned mission to Mars, “because you have to build out the entire base of industry, everything that allows human civilisation to exist”.
He also said celestial outposts on Mars or the moon would not become an “escape hatch for rich people,” but rather require those with a frontier mentality.
“For the early people that go to Mars, it will be far more dangerous,” Mr Musk said.
“It kind of reads like [Ernest] Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers: Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive.”
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) March 11, 2018
Mr Musk said he doesn’t pursue business or financial opportunities so much as see “things that don’t seem to be working that are important for our life and for the future to be good”.
“If you were to do a risk-adjusted, rate-of-return estimate on various industry opportunities, I would put building rockets and cars pretty much at the bottom of the list,” he said.
“They would have to be the dumbest things to do.”
In the case of SpaceX, Mr Musk said he kept wondering why mankind was not making progress towards sending people to Mars.
“Why we didn’t have a base on the moon? Where are the space hotels that were promised in [2001: A Space Odyssey] the movie? It just wasn’t happening,” he said.
“The genesis of SpaceX was not to create a company, but really how do we get NASA’s budget to be bigger.”
As well as interplanetary travel, Mr Musk revealed two of his major inspirations – or maybe not.
The inventor joked that he is inspired by music artist Kanye West to laughter from the SXSW audience. He then nominated Fred Astaire as an influence, quipping: “You should see my dance moves.”