"Honestly, a bunch of people will probably die in the beginning," barefoot SpaceX founder Elon Musk told XPrize founder Peter Diamandis in a recent interview about the first crewed missions to Mars.
SpaceX has had its sights set on Mars since Musk formed the company in 2002. And for years, Musk, who became a tech billionaire before launch SpaceX's, has been very candid about the risks that come with the territory of human spaceflight to the Red Planet. In fact, in 2017, Musk said at the International Astronautical Congress that the first humans to journey to Mars should be "prepared to die."
"Going to Mars reads like that ad book for [explorer Ernest] Shackleton going to the Antarctic," Musk told Diamandis in the interview, which streamed live for over an hour and 19 minutes on YouTube on Thursday (April 22), referencing early 20th-century British Explorer Ernest Shackleton whose ad for a crew of explorers read "Men wanted for hazardous journey."
"It's dangerous, it's uncomfortable, it's a long journey. You might not come back alive. But it's a glorious adventure, and it'll be an amazing experience," he said. "You might die ... and you probably won't have good food and all these things. It's an arduous and dangerous journey where you may not come back alive, but it's a glorious adventure," Musk said.
"Sounds appealing," Musk laughed.
Although Musk has said similar things in the past, the context surrounding the statements has changed tremendously. Compared with 2017, SpaceX has made major strides in human spaceflight. The meaning of these statements continues to evolve as Mars becomes less of a "moonshot" goal and more of a tangible possibility.
SpaceX's developments in human spaceflight continue to grow. On April 23, SpaceX's Crew-2 mission launched four more astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft. This is the third successful crewed launch for SpaceX and experts think missions like this are paving the way for future human space exploration.
Additionally, the company now holds a spaceflight contract with NASA to carry humans beyond Earth orbit, for its Starship vehicle that continues to undergo testing at SpaceX's facilities near the village of Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX recently secured a contract with NASA's Human Landing Systems (HLS) program to develop and build a lunar lander for the agency's Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the moon by 2024.
As recently as December, Musk stated publicly that it was possible that SpaceX would land humans on Mars by 2026. This is just two years after NASA's goal of landing Artemis astronauts on the moon by 2024, itself a very ambitious timeline.