SpaceX's President and Chief Operating Officer (COO), Gwynne Shotwell, made the prediction on CNBC in a recent interview.
Shotwell believes that astronauts will land on the surface of Mars before the end of the 2020s, likely by taking SpaceX's Starship, which features heavily in the company's plans for Mars. Starship is currently committed to several moon missions once it becomes operational following its upcoming orbital flight test should it pass the Federal Aviation Administration's environmental assessment.
"We should put people on the surface of Mars within a decade. I think it will be in this decade, yes. People on the moon, sooner. I think we need to get a large delivery to the surface of Mars, and then people will start thinking harder about it. And then, I think within five or six years, people will see that that will be a real place to go," said Shotwell in the interview.
After a trip booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to go around the moon, Starship has also been tapped by NASA to take the first astronauts to return to the moon as part of its Artemis program. The Artemis program has its sights first set on the moon and eventually Mars, but NASA expects to launch a crewed mission to the Red Planet around 2040, at least a decade after Shotwell expects to see astronauts on Mars.