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Elon Musk and SpaceX are really all about getting to Mars, says investor

While the company and its CEO pay lip service to reaching the Red Planet, how high a priority can it be, really? Pretty high, according to what CNET contributor Eric Mack heard from one investor.

Musk has even designed a Martian U-Haul, of sorts. Tim Stevens/CNET

For more than a decade now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk's SpaceX company has seemingly been focused on creating commercial rockets that will one day be reusable, making it much cheaper to shoot stuff up to orbit, the International Space Station or beyond. But it's all just a prelude to the main mission to Mars, one SpaceX investor recently revealed onstage at a conference on working toward human settlements in space, which this writer attended.

This may come as little surprise to those who follow Musk and SpaceX closely. The billionaire industrialist for the 21st century loves to talk about going to Mars (and even nuking it) when he's not busy trying to make those recyclable rockets land just right or worrying about artificial intelligence while slowly making his electric cars more autonomous.

There's always been reason to wonder how high Mars really is on Musk's list of priorities. While he's talked about sending people there in the next decade, he's been known to be a little overly optimistic with his timelines (getting his rockets off the ground took several years longer than initially hoped), and clearly the guy has other problems to solve and companies to run.

But video game legend, citizen astronaut and SpaceX investor Richard Garriott told a small audience of space enthusiasts at the New Worlds conference in Austin, Texas, on Friday that the company only exists to colonize Mars.

Garriott said that Musk likes to joke with investors, saying things like, "By the way, none of this money is coming back until we are on Mars. "

On SpaceX's own website "About" page, the company is described this way:

"SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets."

Garriott's anecdote also jives with what Musk told Tesla shareholders earlier this year on the topic of a possible future SpaceX initial public offering (Tesla is a public company, SpaceX is not): "It will go public once we have regular flights to Mars," Musk said, according to USA Today.

If that's the plan, perhaps Musk will have the motivation to hit his tight timeline for getting to the Red Planet after all, which will no doubt please investors, and probably a few more-traditional gamblers who are betting on him to beat NASA to Mars, too.