Elon Musk Says SpaceX Could Start a Mars Colony by 2026

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

In a new interview with Y Combinator, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk doubled down on his bullish prediction that his spaceflight company would land humans on Mars sometime in 2025 by upping the ante and asserting that a fully operational colony on the red planet “is potentially something that can be accomplished in about 10 years.”

Musk was quick to preface his argument by saying “I hope I’m not in some realm of self-delusion here.” Nevertheless, he didn’t shy away from his argument that the odds of his company succeeding at building and maintaining a permanent Martian colony for human beings are “pretty good.”

“…look at it this way: at this point, I’m certain there is a way. I’m certain that success is one of the possible outcomes for establishing a self-sustaining Mars colony, a growing Mars colony. I’m certain that is possible. Whereas until maybe a few years ago, I was not sure that success was even one of the possible outcomes. In terms of having some meaningful number of people going to Mars, I think this is potentially something that can be accomplished in about 10 years. Maybe sooner, maybe nine years. I need to make sure that SpaceX doesn’t die between now and then and that I don’t die, or if I do die, that someone takes over who will continue that.”

Musk has explicitly stated in the past that he founded SpaceX with a long-term goal of making human spaceflight to Mars possible, under the hopes that the company would play a critical role in the establishment of a permanent outpost on the surface of the planet.

Previously in the Y Combinator interview, Musk explained that he started SpaceX believing the odds of success “were less than 10 percent,” he says. “I just accepted that actually probably I would just lose everything. But that maybe would make some progress. If we could just move the ball forward, even if we died, maybe some other company could pick up the baton and keep moving it forward, so we’d still do some good.”

This is definitely not how most people launch their businesses — but then again, most people probably wouldn’t bet against NASA. Musk is certainly cut from a different cloth than many of his own peers.

Despite the optimism, there are clearly many reasons to be skeptical about whether SpaceX really will start a Martian colony for humans, let alone get humans to the red planet first. The skepticism is especially warranted after the recent launch pad explosion.

What is clear, however, is that it’s a mistake to perceive SpaceX and NASA as being in competition with one another when it comes to Mars. Neither side sees it that way.