The ambitious timeline ends in a full effort to colonize Mars

Quick notes:

  • Musk has set Mars colonization as his goal for decades

  • SpaceX has been building up to the effort since its launch

  • The full timeline extends into the 2100s

Since he founded SpaceX in 2002, Elon Musk has been talking about how he is going to colonize Mars. In the nearly two decades since that time, SpaceX he has been slowly and steadily working on achieving his goal.

Now that SpaceX has made significant progress in space, what’s next? Recently, Musk shared some of his vision for that future. Like everything else, it is ambitious and surprising.

A new rocket that’s up for the job

Past SpaceX rockets, like Dragon, the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, were used to carry cargo beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and to perfect the ability to both launch and return the same vehicle to port. These were instrumental milestones towards the ultimate goal of colonizing Mars. According to Musk and his team, if there is going to be regular travel into space and trips beyond the immediate area of the Earth, having to create new rockets for each trip just isn’t financially feasible. But while these rockets served their purpose, they’re just too small to help with Mars colonization.

If all goes well … in the Summer of 2022, the team aims to launch the large rocket into space and head to the red planet with cargo and supplies only.

Now Musk has created an even larger rocket, with a size that’s size-capable of helping to colonize Mars. It is officially named as Starship, though Musk has been known to simply call it B.F.R. (Yeah, it is either  short for Big Falcon Rocket or Big F*****g Rocket, or both. Musk hasn’t confirmed.) It is a fully reusable, 387-foot system consisting of both the craft’s main section and a booster. They’re building the huge vehicle in a Los Angeles-based factory that is specifically designed for the purpose.

Reaching Mars orbit in six months

Along with announcing the jaw-dropping rocket, Musk also laid out more details in his timeline for reaching Mars. Astoundingly, he indicated that the SpaceX team is working to try to get the BFR to Mars’ orbit within six months. That’s Spring 2020, in case anyone is keeping track.

How is it possible to fulfill such an ambitious plan? Other milestones in the effort tell more of the story. If all goes well and the ambitious plan stays on track, in the Summer of 2022, the team aims to launch the large rocket into space and head to the red planet with cargo and supplies only. This timeframe allows SpaceX to take advantage of the time when Earth and Mars are closest to each other and the trip would require less fuel. An arrival in late 2022 or early 2023 would follow.

Other milestones to colonizing Mars


Once the first BFR is sent out towards Mars, several other significant steps are expected to follow. Here’s a snapshot of what Musk says everyone can look forward to:

  • 2023: Launch the first crewed BFR and travel around the Moon
  • 2024: Send people towards Mars
  • 2025: Put the first human on Mars
  • 2028: Build the first Mars base
  • 2030s: Construct the first city on Mars
  • 2100s: Make Mars more like Earth

All of these milestones are ambitious, and each rests on the success of its predecessor and on humans gaining further knowledge of Mars and finding ways to overcome obstacles to sustaining life – first briefly and then long term – on Mars’ surface. If one slips, then those in line behind it will follow. The world will be watching to see how Musk and SpaceX perform as they work to achieve their goals.

A deeper dive – More from the 101:

-SpaceX: Breathing New Life Into Space Travel | Science 101
Here’s an overview of SpaceX’s role in revitalizing the space exploration and travel industry.

-Does Martian methane mean life on Mars? | Science 101
Is there new evidence that life on Mars is possible?