Enlarge / SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speaks at the International Astronautical Congress on September 29, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. (credit: Mark Brake/Getty Images)
Yes, Elon Musk still absolutely wants to go to Mars.

But in a speech delivered Friday in Adelaide, Australia, the founder of SpaceX opened the door to sending humans to the Moon first. “It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base by now,” he said, speaking just a couple of years shy of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landings. “What the hell is going on?”

This was just a single line in his talk, which was filled with exhilarating moments but also—critically—some welcome doses of reality.

A year ago, when Musk unveiled his Mars rocket at the same annual meeting of the International Astronautical Congress, the presentation felt much more like science fiction than something that might become a reality.
It lacked any real semblance of a plan to pay for the rocket.

Musk revises his Mars ambitions, and they seem a little bit more realA thoroughly sci-fi looking rendering of Moon Base Alpha. (credit: SpaceX)

This year, Musk’s talk still sparkled with almost unimaginable technology.

But it was leavened with enough tidbits of plausibility to think he just might maybe-sorta pull this off one day.

After all, it was only nine years ago that the company made its first successful launch, a tiny Falcon 1 rocket that took flight after three consecutive failures. Now, SpaceX is proving out the technology that underlies reusable rockets, and it stands at the precipice of capturing at least a third of the global launch market.
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