SpaceX CEO Musk: We're Going To Mars

on April 25 2011 12:41 PM

As space travel becomes a private-sector business, Elon Musk is confident his company, Space Exploration Technologies, can do more than reach for the stars -- they can get tehre (or at least to other planets).

We'll probably put a first man in space in about three years. We're going all the way to Mars, I think... best case 10 years, worst case 15 to 20 years, Musk, chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), told The Wall Street Journal.

SpaceX was one of four private companies NASA awarded funding to in order to build the next generation of American-made spacecraft. The shuttle, America's longest running space orbital vehicle program, will be ending this year after 30-plus years of sending astronauts into space.

NASA's grant of $75 million will go to Spacex's Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX has already completed a successful unmanned test with the Dragon. The grant will help SpaceX add a new launch escape system and add other systems to the Dragon.

The Dragon is not SpaceX's only take on a spacecraft that can send people into orbit. It recently unveiled the Falcon Heavy, the world's  most powerful rocket. It can send spacecraft weighing more than 53 metric tons, or 117,000 pounds, into space, double the capacity of the space shuttle.

A future where humanity is out there exploring stars is an incredibly exciting future, and inspiring, and that's what we're trying to help make happen, Musk said.

Until these private spacecraft are built, NASA will be reliant on the Russian Soyuz to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS. This will cost more than $753 million a year - about $63 million per seat.

Musk said Dragon will be able to carry seven astronauts at a time to the space station at a cost of $20 million a seat.