On Tuesday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk gave his most detailed plan to date for how he's going to create a human space colony on Mars. His plan involves reusable rockets, methane fuel, and solar panels so that ships carrying 100 people paying about $140,000 each can start departing Earth for Mars as soon as the late 2020s. But who will be on those ships? Apparently not Elon Musk.
After Musk's talk at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, two audience members asked if he has plans to go to Mars along with the one million people he imagines sending there over an estimated 40 to 100 years. The first person asked simply whether he planned to go to Mars.
"I would like to go to orbit, visit the Space Station," Musk replied from the stage, and then after a small hesitation, continued, "and ultimately go to Mars."
But he added that, if he were to die trying to get there, he'd need a "good succession plan" at SpaceX so that profit-minded shareholders wouldn't divert the plan away from building a Mars colony. With the SpaceX technology being developed, you could theoretically fly across the Atlantic in 10 minutes—another, more Earthly money-making scheme.
A second audience member, who apparently wasn't listening to the first question, asked, "Will you be the first man on Mars?" This time around, Musk was explicit in his answer.
"The probability of death on the first mission is quite high," he replied. He said he wanted to see his kids grow up and implied that SpaceX needs him too much as a leader to have him bite the bullet on the way to the red planet. So no.
Musk is passionate about making humans an "interplanetary species" and said the opportunity to head to space should appeal to people with a sense of adventure who are excited about the future, and who are willing to die.
"If you want to be on the frontier, where things are super exciting even if it's dangerous, that's who we're appealing to," Musk said. "I would not suggest sending children. Are you prepared to die? If that's ok, you're a candidate for going."
So…. maybe that first flight should take some crash-test dummies to Mars rather than human guinea pigs.