Elon Musk says that Mars spaceships will be ready for short trips by the first half of 2019.

Speaking at a surprise Q&A session at the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology and culture festival in Austin, Texas, the Tesla and SpaceX founder said “we are building the first Mars, or interplanetary ship, and I think well be able to short trips, flights by first half of next year.”

Musk did, however concede to a little laughter from the audience, that he has a history of making predictions that are, to put it bluntly, a little optimistic.

“Sometimes, my timelines are a little, you know..,” he said.

Musk also said that the move was, in part, to encourage other companies to join in the efforts to make travelling to Mars a reality.

“The biggest thing that would be helpful is just general support and encouragement and goodwill,” Musk said. “I think once we build it we’ll have a point of proof something that other companies and countries can go and do.

“They certainly don’t think it’s possible, but if we do they’ll up their game and build interplanetary transport vehicles, as well,” he said.

Musk has said in the past that he wants to put humans on the red planet by 2024. It was only last month that SpaceX launched its most impressive rocket to date – the Falcon Heavy – which contained a rather unusual payload, Musk’s own red Tesla roadster.