A crewed Mars mission could happen sooner than you think.
Astronauts will likely make it to the Red Planet's surface before the end of the 2020s, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell told CNBC's Shepard Smith recently.
"I think we need to get a large delivery to the surface of Mars, and then people will start thinking harder about it," she added. "And then, I think within five or six years, people will see that that will be a real place to go."
SpaceX, of course, aims to be the one to make this ambitious vision a reality. The company is developing a huge, reusable rocket-spaceship combo called Starship to take people and payloads to the moon, Mars and beyond.
Starship already has several moon missions on its docket. In 2018, for example, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa booked the vehicle for a round-the-moon trip with a target launch date of 2023. And NASA picked Starship to be the first crewed lunar lander for its Artemis program, which plans to put astronauts down near the moon's south pole in 2025.
NASA views Artemis as a moon-to-Mars program and intends to launch a crewed Red Planet mission in 2040 or thereabouts — about a decade later than Shotwell sees boots first crunching into the red dirt.
SpaceX is working toward a big milestone in Starship's development — the vehicle's first-ever orbital test flight, which the company wants to launch from its South Texas facility, called Starbase, in the near future. That launch cannot happen, however, until the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wraps up an environmental assessment of the activities at Starbase.
That review was originally supposed to be done by the end of 2021, but the FAA has pushed its completion back several times, most recently to May 31.
Shotwell's interview with Smith was part of "Inspiring America: The 2022 Inspiration List," a program that will air this weekend across NBCUniversal News Groups' television and streaming networks. Learn more about "Inspiring America" and how to watch it here.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.