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Elon Musk is 'highly confident' SpaceX's Starship will ferry humans to Mars by 2026 — four years later than previously hoped

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starship rocket prototype boca chica texas elon musk nervous praying spacex getty 4x3 SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is building and launching Starship prototypes in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday he believes the company could land humans on Mars in 2026 — four years later than he previously hoped.

In an interview with Mathias Döpfner, CEO of German publishing house Axel Springer, on Tuesday, Musk said he was “highly confident” that a crewed mission of SpaceX’s Starship rocket could land on Mars in 2026.

“If we get lucky, maybe four years,” Musk said. “We want to send an uncrewed vehicle there in two years.” 

In 2017, Musk said his “aspirational” timeline was for SpaceX to send cargo ships to Mars in 2022, followed by a crewed mission two years later. At a virtual conference in October, Musk also said that SpaceX had a “fighting chance” of sending its Starship rocket to Mars in 2024, but emphasized that the date was only a “guess.”

The timing of the mission, he told Döpfner, is dependent on the synchronization of Earth and Mars, which happens every 26 months.

“We had one this year in the summer,” he said. “That means roughly in two years there’ll be another one, then two years after that.”

Building a city on Mars

Musk, who spoke at Axel Springer’s headquarters in Berlin, won this year’s Axel Springer Award.

He told Döpfner that he could make his own first trip to orbit in “possibly two or three years.”

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO said his main focus is to ensure the technology is in place to allow “a lot of people to go to Mars and make life interplanetary, and to have a base on the moon.”

“I think it’s important that we aspire to have a self-sustaining city on Mars as soon as possible,” Musk said.

Elon Musk SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Though his timeline has wavered, Musk has long held the goal of sending humans to Mars in the near future.

“If things go super well,” landing people on Mars “might be kind of in the 10-year timeframe,” he said at the International Astronautical Congress in September 2016.

Read more: SpaceX may shell out billions to outsource Starlink satellite-dish production, an industry insider says — and lose up to $2,000 on each one it sells

Musk tweeted on Sunday that a prototype of SpaceX’s Starship will undergo its first high-altitude test as early as Wednesday. Starship is a fully reusable vehicle designed to hold as many as 100 passengers and carry heavy payloads. 

But according to a road closure notice issued for the aerospace company’s launch site in southern Texas, that flight date has changed to December 7 between 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. ET.

Musk said there was a lot that could go wrong, and gave the spacecraft a one-in-three chance of returning to Earth in one piece.