An illustration of a female passenger orbiting Mars inside a SpaceX vehicle.
  • Elon Musk said he's "definitely going to be dead" before humans reach Mars unless the current pace of innovation picks up.
  • The SpaceX CEO made the comments on Monday while speaking to attendees of the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, D.C.
  • Musk said the biggest obstacle currently is designing and building a large, "rapidly reusable" rocket.
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SpaceX founder and CEO and Elon Musk thinks society needs to pick up the pace if he has any chance at setting foot on Mars.

"If we don't improve our pace of progress, I'm definitely going to be dead before we go," Musk told attendees Monday at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, DC.

Musk's forecast came in response to a question about how he's passing his vision along to the next generation of space explorers. "I hope I'm not dead," Musk said, before acknowledging that he's not confident humans will complete a mission to Mars while he's still alive without improving the current rate of innovation.

The biggest technological obstacle, according to Musk, is building a reusable rocket with enough capacity to carry the things humans would need on a Mars mission.

"There's really just one thing that matters, and that is a fully and rapidly reusable rocket," Musk said, adding that "it needs to be reasonably big."

SpaceX is currently working toward that exact goal with its Starship rocket protoypes, which the company hopes to start launching in the coming months. Musk has said the Starship will be fully reusable and stand at nearly 400 feet tall, making it capable of carrying around 100 tons of cargo along with 100 people.

Sending a rocket into space is enormously expensive. Musk's estimates have put the launch of each Starship rocket at around $2 million - and he's aiming to launch up to three per day, with plans to eventually build one every 72 hours until the company has a fleet of 1,000.

That means the rockets need to be able to carry enough payload per trip to justify the massive costs.

"You have a container ship with thousands of containers," Musk said. "You don't have a bunch of tiny ships with little outboard [motors] on them cruising across the Pacific, that would be silly."

While humans may have mastered the concept for transocean voyages, SpaceX is still far from translating that progress into orbital trips. In late February, the company's Starship SN1 prototype imploded on the launch pad.

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