Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk seems to be light years ahead of NASA. His Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) has left even the world’s largest automakers far behind in the green car technology. And Musk’s another venture SpaceX is planning to put the first humans on Mars by 2026. NASA is still mapping out plans and pathways to reach the Red Planet by late 2030s or in 2040s.

SpaceX Dragon V2 Elon Musk

Elon Musk says the real challenge is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars

In an interview on CNBC’s Closing Bell on Tuesday, Elon Musk said he plans to take the first humans to Mars in the next 10 to 12 years. Earlier this year, the billionaire entrepreneur had surprised the Wall Street by stating that he wouldn’t take SpaceX public until the Mars colonial transporter starts flying regularly.

Elon Musk told CNBC that the long-term challenge is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars and make human life multi-planetary. This goal is essential to the future survival of humanity, he added. Mankind has to become an interplanetary species. If it remains a single-planet culture, it risks becoming extinct due to natural or man-made catastrophe.

Musk’s schedule puts him far ahead of NASA, which can get humans to Mars by late 2030s only if it gets billions of dollars in public funding and succeeds in building a rocket big enough to reach Mars. Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy booster is scheduled to start flying by 2015. It will carry sufficient payload to make a Mars spaceship possible. During the interview, Musk paid tribute to the agency. He said SpaceX couldn’t have gotten this far without NASA’s pioneering work.

Elon Musk won’t take SpaceX public until it has perfected its technology

SpaceX plans to keep working with NASA. It currently delivers cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX recently unveiled its Dragon V2 spacecraft, and the company hopes to win a deal to deliver crew to the ISS. Elon Musk said even if SpaceX doesn’t win a contract from NASA, it will still be able to make it to Mars.

Elon Musk acknowledged that the company’s plans are too long-term to attract many investors. Wall Street is obsessed with quarterly and annual goals. So, the company is unlikely to go public until it has perfected its technology, and things become steady and predictable. Musk thinks the ideal time for SpaceX to go public is when it has flown the Mars transporter a few times.