SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Says 'We Plan to Launch People to Mars in 2024'

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By Harriet Taylor, CNBC

SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk will send a mission to Mars — on the Flying Dragon version 2 rocket —starting in 2018 and launch a rocket headed there at every open opportunity — every 26 months.

"It is intended to carry astronauts to the International Space Station," said Musk at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, on Wednesday night. "But we are going to send one to Mars in 2018."

But that's not the biggest ambition. If everything goes according to plan, the first rocket carrying human cargo will launch in 2024, he said.

The Flying Dragon 2 has the interior size of an SUV and is capable of carrying up to seven people and will take 18 months to get there.

"I would not recommend traveling to Mars in that," he said. "It would be a long time to spend on an SUV."

"It also does not have the capability to get back to earth, we put that in the fine print."

More importantly, perhaps: "It also does not have the capability to get back to earth, we put that in the fine print," he said.

"If you're going to choose a place to die, then Mars is not a bad choice," he said.

Musk would not reveal too much about his Mars colonization plans, but plans to present his architecture for Mars colonization at the International Astronautical Congress conference in September, he said.

On the accuracy of the box office hit "The Martian" starring Matt Damon, Musk rated the movie eight out of ten for scientific accuracy.

"I don't think you can take off from Mars on an unguided rocket and then prick your finger and navigate to a spaceship," he said. "Not impossible, just very unlikely."

Musk himself has not been into space — yet — he plans to go into orbit in 4 or 5 years.

When asked by Vox Media's Walt Mossberg if humans abandon earth entirely, Musk replied: "No, I think it's great."

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.