"I would like to die on Mars," billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk told an audience last week. "Just not on impact."
During his opening keynote at the SXSW Interactive tech festival, the co-founder of PayPal, who is also behind electric car company Tesla Motors and energy outfit SolarCity, said he went "all in" on his ambitious startups, including the civilian rocket ship outfit SpaceX.
“My friend asked me what I wanted to do after PayPal. Well, I've always been into space. I went to the NASA website to find out when we were going to Mars, and I couldn't find out."
So he decided to do it on his own.
Initially, the South African-born entrepreneur admitted, he was worried that the U.S. had “lost the will to explore, the will to push the boundary, and in retrospect that was a very foolish error. The United States is a nation of explorers; the United States is a distillation of the human spirit of exploration. But people need to believe that its possible, that it’s not going to bankrupt them, that they’re not going to have to give up something important like health care or affect their standard of living. Then I think people would be very excited about sending people to Mars.”
But first he has to get the price down, because currently rocket ships are single-use disposable items, which obviously makes them pretty pricey.
“Reusability is extremely important if you think it’s important that humanity extend beyond earth,” he said. “Every mode of transport that we’ve used — cars, planes, trains, horses, bikes — they’re reusable. But not rockets. If we can’t make rockets reusable, the cost is prohibitive. How much does it cost to fuel an airplane and how much does it cost to buy an airplane?”
But then Musk showed off footage from a successful test completed just days earlier still unseen by anyone but its video editor of a Grasshopper rocket ship that rose 262.8 feet in the air and then landed -- yes, landed -- with the accuracy of a helicopter. The thousands in attendance erupted into wild applause. It felt like a glimpse into what he called “an exciting and inspiring future in Space.”
"The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip," he said.
Musk said at the time he didn't know if his reusable rocket — dubbed in the media the MCT, possibly for Mass Cargo Transit or Mars Colony Transport — would be the technology used to transport people to Mars.