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Elon Musk says SpaceX will fly humans by mid-2018, he’ll fly 'three or four' years later

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Elon Musk was a guest speaker Wednesday at the ISS R&D conference in Washington D.C., where he talked, among other things, about SpaceX’s goal to blast humans to the International Space Station by mid-2018.

“We promised NASA,” Musk said.

The CEO went on to say that SpaceX’s “primary focus” will be to meet next year’s deadline, which was pushed back from its initial 2017 schedule after the rocket company suffered a launchpad explosion last year.

Even as SpaceX has had some degree of expected setbacks when it comes to sending cargo missions to space, Musk said that preparing for a crewed mission has been “way more difficult.”

“As soon as people enter the picture, it’s really a giant step up in making sure things go right,” explained Musk.

The key to SpaceX’s extension to crewed missions will be its upcoming Crew Dragon capsule, a sequel to the Dragon carrier that attaches to SpaceX rockets today to carry satellites and ISS gear to Earth’s orbit. Musk said the next Dragon stage will have a heat shield more capable of surviving an “anomaly,” but that won’t make its first manned mission any less “tough” to prepare for.

Aside from manned missions to the ISS, SpaceX is also getting set to fly two private citizens to the moon and back next year, a trip that will require the firepower of SpaceX’s upcoming, upsized rocket, the Falcon Heavy. Musk said the Heavy’s 27 orbital engines – up from the current Falcon’s nine – have made it “way more difficult” to engineer than expected.

Of the first Heavy test launch that could take place as early as this summer, Musk said, “There’s a lot that could go wrong there.”

“I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly. I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage – I would consider even that a win, to be honest,” he delivered deadpan. He went on to say, “Whoever is on the first flight is brave.”

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The SpaceX boss was later asked by an audience member when he’d consider taking part in one of his company's manned missions. Musk chuckled and then straightened his face.

“I would like to at some point, I would like to. Assuming things work out, maybe three or four years. Yeah. It would be great.”

During his talk at the ISS R&D conference, Musk also said it would be a good idea to put a base on the moon and his password was once "ILOVENASA."

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