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SpaceX’s president says we’ll be able to take a rocket to Shanghai — or Mars — ‘within a decade’

Halfway across the globe in about half an hour, Gwynne Shotwell said at TED.

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell onstage at the TED conference
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell
TED / Ryan Lash

Last year, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk got a lot of attention for a video proposing city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space.

Today, speaking at the TED Conference in Vancouver, SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell reiterated the company’s plans, pledging that the technology will be ready and operational “within a decade, for sure.”

“It’s definitely going to happen,” she said, interviewed onstage by TED’s Chris Anderson. The company also hopes to fly to Mars by then.

A lot can (and probably will) change in a decade. But the idea is that a very large rocket, capable of carrying about 100 people, could fly like an aircraft and do point-to-point travel on Earth much faster than a plane — halfway across the globe in about 30 to 40 minutes, Shotwell said, landing on a pad five to 10 kilometers outside of a city center.

Shotwell estimated the ticket cost would be somewhere between economy and business class on a plane — so, likely in the thousands of dollars for transoceanic travel. “But you do it in an hour.”

“I’m personally invested in this one,” she said, “because I travel a lot, and I do not love to travel. And I would love to get to see my customers in Riyadh, leave in the morning and be back in time to make dinner.”

How could travel by rocket cost so little? Shotwell said the efficiency would come from being fast enough to be able to operate a route a dozen or so times a day, whereas a long-haul airplane often only does one flight per day.

(Shotwell shared no details on seat design, in-flight amenities or how many barf bags we’ll need per person.)

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