Flights to Mars will begin early next year, the entrepreneur Elon Musk has predicted as he said man must colonise other planets before “World War Three”.
Mr Musk, whose company SpaceX is designing a rocket for interplanetary travel, estimated that “up-and-down flights” to the red planet should start in the first half of 2019.
During a rare question and answer session, Mr Musk called for creative thinking as he said everything from “iron foundries” to “pizza joints” and “night clubs” would be needed on Mars.
He predicted little appetite for the first interplanetary trips, saying that like Sir Ernest Shackleton’s adverts for early Antarctic exploring there would be a “good chance you’ll die”.
But the US billionaire added that creating human bases on other planets could help “regenerate life” on Earth if it is turned to "radioactive rubble" by another war.
Mr Musk offered his thoughts of space travel in an appearance at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas on Sunday.
Future space exploration
After making his money through PayPal, Mr Musk created the electric car company Tesla and the rocket and spacecraft company SpaceX.
Mr Musk discussed SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket [BFR], which it is hoped will transport people to Mars, during his appearance.
“We’ll be able to do short up-and-down flights probably sometime in the first half of next year,” Mr Musk said. He made the prediction after admitting some of his timelines had proved “optimistic” in the past.
Asked about the infrastructure needed on Mars, Mr Musk said first it would be “fundamentals without which you cannot survive” such as power stations and blast domes to grow crops.
He added: “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.”
Mr Musk said colonisation of other planets would help protect humankind if another major war broke out in the coming decades.
“I think a moon base and a Mars base that could perhaps help regenerate life back here on Earth would be really important and to get that done before a possible World War Three,” Mr Musk said.
“Last century we had two massive world wars, three if you count the cold war. I think it’s unlikely that we’ll never have another world war again. There probably will be at some point. … [Earth] could just be radioactive rubble.”
He also joked that flying to Mars would have a similar appeal to the first attempts to explore Antarctica more than a century ago.
Mr Musk said: “For the early people that go to Mars, it will be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like [Ernest] Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers: Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive.”
The US innovator made headlines last month when one of SpaceX’s rockets successfully took his cherry-red Tesla convertible car into space.
During the question and answer session Mr Musk named Kanye West, the rapper, and Fred Astaire, the dancer and actor, as among his inspirations.
He also called for more regulation of artificial intelligence, saying: “I’m very close to the cutting edge in AI, and it scares the hell out of me. It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows, and the rate of improvement is exponential.”