Elon Musk plans Mars spaceship, warns there's a 'good chance' that early passengers could die

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon, once said, "Mars is there, waiting to be reached."

If Elon Musk has his way, he'll be the one to reach it, even if it's likely to be a dangerous journey that could result in the loss of human life.

Speaking at the South by South West festival in Austin, Texas, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Musk said he envisions test flights of his Mars spacecraft next year, though he cautioned early trips could end in death.

“For the early people that go to Mars, it will be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like (Ernest) Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers: Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die," Musk said. "Excitement for those who survive.”

A man known for his ability to make absurd deadlines and then failing to live up to them, Musk acknowledged that his plan to do "short flights, up and down flights [to Mars], some time in the first half of next year" was a bit optimistic. "Although sometimes, my timelines are a little, y'know..." he said to laughter, before trailing off, according to the BBC.

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The carrier that is expected to eventually get to the Red Planet is the BFR rocket system. According to the company's website, the BFR will have an updated design over the current Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon, with a single system containing one booster and one ship.

During the question and answer session at Austin's SXSW, Musk even talked about the type of society he expects Mars to have in order to make it a success.

"I think most likely the form of government on Mars would be a direct democracy, where people vote directly on issues," he said, in comments obtained by the BBC. "Everyone votes on every issue and that’s how it goes."

He also expects a colony on Mars to help ensure the survival of the human race, calling out issues such as another world war, saying it's "unlikely" there would not be another one.

Musk, 46, also showed excitement for industry on Mars, highlighting businesses such as pizza joints and even making a joke about people drinking at a Mars Bar.

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Plan to get to Mars

By 2022, SpaceX hopes to get the BFR to Mars, where its initial mission "will be to confirm water resources and identify hazards along with putting in place initial power, mining, and life support infrastructure."

The company has previously said a second mission, scheduled for 2024, would have "primary objectives of building a propellant depot and preparing for future crew flights," designed to eventually build a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.

The company, which raised an additional $450 million in venture funding, according to an SEC filing, is now valued at $21.5 billion, due in large part because of its advanced reusable rocket technology and its quest to get to Mars.

Musk's comments follow a string of recent successes for SpaceX, especially last month's launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia