Elon Musk predicts SpaceX’s Mars rocket could launch in 2019

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Elon Musk, founder, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla, speaks at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition II in Hawthorne, California, U.S., August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

SpaceX chief Elon Musk has predicted that humanity’s first steps into colonizing Mars could begin as early as next year, with the launch of the company’s interplanetary rocket.

Speaking to an audience at South by Southwest, Musk revealed his timeline for the ambitious project that seeks to put a human colony on the Red Planet.

“We are building the first ship, the first Mars or interplanetary ship, right now,” Musk told screenwriter Jonathan Nolan during a rare question and answer session. “I think we’ll be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, sometime in the first half of next year.”

Musk admitted that his timelines have been historically optimistic. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket today, was pushed back several times before successfully launching Musk’s Tesla Roadster sports car into orbit as its test payload.

Compared to the Falcon Heavy, the rocket which will be utilized to send missions to Mars, which is codenamed BFR, will be several times larger and more complex.

Musk predicts that the launch of the BFR will invite a flood of energy from other spacecraft manufacturers. He said that the BFR will be the point of proof, and he expects other companies or countries to begin building their own interplanetary spacecraft. “They certainly don’t think it’s possible, but if we do they’ll up their game,” Musk said.

The SpaceX innovator also discussed the infrastructure that will be needed in order to establish a human colony on Mars. He said the future settlement will need “fundamentals without which you cannot survive,” such as power stations and blast domes where crops can be grown.

“And then really there’s going to be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints to night clubs,” he said.

The most recent plans from SpaceX includes goals to put humans on Mars by the year 2022.