Space was a recurring theme at SXSW, with NASA hosting a number of sessions. In his keynote interview, however, Elon Musk painted the most viable future for man’s exploration of the Solar System and beyond. One of the founders of PayPal, Musk went on to found electric car manufacturer Tesla. However, it was his latest venture, SpaceX, that he was talking about at SXSW. Since he was a kid, Musk has longed for mankind to go to Mars. He now sees commercial space transportation as the key element to making this financially viable. SpaceX already provides its services to NASA, and was the first commercial space company to take supplies to the International Space Station.

During the keynote, Musk showed video for the first time of a prototype of SpaceX’s Grasshopper Rocket launching and then returning back exactly where it started on the launchpad under thruster power. When he says he would like to see mankind walk on Mars in his lifetime, if anyone could make this dream a reality, Musk could.

In a separate presentation, Richard Garriott de Cayeux echoed Musk’s views. Garriot de Cayeux made his fortune as designer and programmer of the Ultima series with Origin Systems, then famously paid $30 million to become the sixth space tourist with his visit to the International Space Station in 2008. Like Musk, he sees the drastic cost savings from commercialisation of space flight as the herald of a new era, and predicts a manned Mars mission as soon as 2018. With more than a handful of private companies now targeting space, including Virgin Galactic, mankind’s exploration of the stars seems back on the agenda, even if NASA itself is no longer taking the lead.

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