Musk promises 1st 'up-and-down flight' for SpaceX Mars rocket next year

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"I think we'll be able to do short flights, short up-and-down flights, sometime in the first half of next year", he told screenwriter and director Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher, onstage.

But, aware of his reputation, he added: "Sometimes my timelines are a little. y'know".

Musk held a question-and-answer segment with fans while attending the South by Southwest festival (SXSW) this weekend and was asked about the possibilities of sending a spaceship to the red planet.

More pressing to Mr Musk, and the investors that enable him, might be the backlog of orders for the Model 3, Tesla's "affordable" new vehicle.

After a string of failed rockets - and near bankruptcy - SpaceX wowed the world with its latest flight, Falcon Heavy, in February.

Elon Musk says Mars could be a refuge in the event of a third world war on Earth.

Mr Musk also got divorced, and he said he had to borrow money from his friends to pay his rent.

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"I could put it all into one company, and the other company would definitely die, or if I split it into both SpaceX and Tesla, then they both might die", he said.

Musk, 46, who's long dreamed of creating a human colony on Mars, revealed in 2017 that he was building the new rocket ship with the code name "BFR" that would be capable of traveling anywhere on Earth in under an hour.

Mars will need pizza joints, and one day people will drink at a Mars Bar, he said - congratulating himself on the Dad joke.

In fact, Musk believes the spacecraft will take flight as early as next year, but only for short flights. "Most likely, the form of government on Mars would be somewhat of a direct democracy", he said, with settlers having a direct vote on individual issues.

"Some AI experts think they know more than they do and they think they're smarter than they are. this tends to plague smart people, they define themselves by their intelligence and they don't like the idea that a machine can be way smarter than them so they just discount the idea, which is fundamentally flawed". He added, "Mark my words, AI is far more risky than nukes".

"The biggest thing that would be helpful is just general support and encouragement and goodwill", Musk said.

Artist's rendering of USA astronaut planting a flag on Mars.

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