Humans headed to Mars by 2026?

But Earth's neighbor is the future of space exploration — and not just for NASA.

Elon Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX, predicted on CNBC last week that landing humans on Mars might not be too far away.

"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10, 12 years," Musk said in the interview. Musk hopes to establish a self-sustaining city on Mars.

University of Central Florida space expert Dale Ketcham said it's probably a bit too optimistic to think any human could be on Mars within a decade.

"Things usually end up costing and taking more time than Mr. Musk anticipates," Ketcham said. "But, he still does a lot better than the government does — up until now."

While SpaceX is targeting the next decade, NASA officials said it will likely take them twice as long for them to get ready for a mission to the red planet.

The National Research Council issued a report recently stating on NASA's current path — noting that it won't get to Mars soon without a major funding boost.

That's not deterring NASA administrator Charlie Bolden, though.

"President Obama challenged us to put humans in the Martian environment in the 2030s, with the intent to landing and staying there, and we intend to do that," Bolden said.

NASA plans to launch humans from Florida to an asteroid in the 2020s. NASA said the technology and procedures learned on the asteroid mission will act as a stepping stone to Mars.

And whether it's SpaceX in the 2020s or NASA in the 2030s, Florida's Space Coast can expect to be the gateway to the red planet.

"Mars is distant, but in distance only," Bolden said. "Not in time."



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