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Elon Musk Has New Estimate for When Humans Might First Step on Mars

Red Planet real estate is looking very unlikely to hit the market any time soon.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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Eric Mack
2 min read
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Groundbreaking has been pushed back...

SpaceX

Humanity's chances of setting foot on Mars before the end of the decade are beginning to fade as leading Martian transport developer Elon Musk has pushed back his target date for reaching the red planet again. 

In 2016, the SpaceX founder unveiled his grand ambition to set up a city on Mars. At that time, Musk hoped to see a crewed mission to our planetary neighbor happen as soon as 2024. Since then, the company has made a lot of progress in building its Mars rocket, but not quite fast enough to meet that initial timeline. 

On Wednesday, Musk revealed on Twitter that he now sees 2029 as the earliest date humans might first step on Mars. That would be 60 years since the first moon landing in 1969. 

As recently as December of 2020, Musk was aiming for 2026

Starship, which SpaceX is designing to take astronauts to the moon for NASA and eventually to Mars, has made some successful high-altitude flights, but has yet to make it to space.

Musk has made noise over the past two years about federal launch regulations slowing the process of reaching Mars and recently even floated the specter of bankruptcy if SpaceX isn't able to produce Starship's raptor engines more rapidly. 

Watch this: Elon Musk unveils new Starship mission video

Unsurprisingly, getting to Mars takes planning. As Mars and Earth move around the sun, the two planets move closer to one another and then farther away again. To take advantage of the times when the trip between the two worlds is shortest requires launching during certain windows. The ideal Mars launch windows for this decade are later this year, late 2024, late 2026 and late 2028/early 2029. 

It's looking as though Musk's initial ambitions may have been overly optimistic. If his target date slips much further, into the 2030s, it will be more in the ballpark of when NASA has always been aiming in terms of sending the first astronauts to Mars. 

While space tourism may have begun to blossom in the last year, we're unlikely to see commercial expeditions to the red planet for a while longer.