Forget planes. Elon Musk teases Earth travel via rockets

From the US to China in 40 minutes? The SpaceX founder suggests that if we're building spaceships to send us to Mars, we should consider using them on Earth.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
Expertise Cryptocurrency | Culture | International News
Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Daniel Van Boom
Jennifer Bisset
2 min read

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said Friday his ambitions aren't limited to interplanetary travel. He has his eye on international routes, as well.

"If we're building this [ship] to go to the moon and Mars," Musk challenged the audience at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, "then why not go to other places on Earth as well?"

Musk says we could use SpaceX's BFR (that stands for "big f*****g rocket," if you're wondering) to transport people between any two points on Earth in under an hour. Most destinations would take less than half that time. New York to Shanghai, for instance, would be a 39-minute trip, a fraction of the exhausting 15 hours it currently takes via airplane. 

Musk ended his presentation with a video teasing the idea that was designed to be the proverbial mic drop. He didn't make clear whether SpaceX actually intends to implement the technology for international travel, though he did later claim on Instagram that each seat would cost the same as an economy ticket in an airplane.  

"We looked at that and the results are quite interesting," Musk said, leaving us hanging. 

Musk also left us hanging about his plans for Mars, though he did offer a little more detail. He wants to send ships to the Red Planet in 2022, with human beings following in two years' time. Once those humans are actually there, they'll start building a propellant plant to make interplanetary travel easier. That'll be the bedrock for the Mars utopia we're all hoping for.     

SpaceX will be using the BFR ship, which will take around 100 passengers at a time. It's also the most efficient of the company's fleet, thanks to it being largely reusable.  

"It's really crazy that we build these sophisticated rockets and then crash them every time we fly," he said. 

Other than reusable spacecrafts, Musk plans to cut the cost of Mars travel by refueling in orbit, building the aforementioned propellant plant on Mars and using methane, abundant on Mars, as a fuel source. 

Musk first laid out his scheme to build a 1-million-person strong colony on the red planet at last year's IAC in Mexico. Questions regarding day-to-day essentials, like what we'll use for toilet paper, remain unanswered.

Originally published Sept. 28 at 11:40 p.m. PT.
Update, Sept. 29 at 1:32 a.m. PT: Added Musk's comment from Instagram.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sampling of the stories you'll find in CNET's newsstand edition.

Star Wars at 40: Join us in celebrating the many ways the Force-filled sci-fi saga has impacted our lives.