Richard Branson on space travel: "I'm determined to start a population on Mars"

CBS This Morning

(CBS News) Virgin Airlines CEO, Richard Branson has revolutionized the travel industry but the billionaire entrepreneur already has his sights sets on virgin territory. As the U.S. government closes its shuttle operation, Branson's Virgin Galactic is preparing to offer commercial space flights at $200,000 for a two-hour flight, likely in the next year. His plan? To make space flight as common as taking a plane.

"It's going to be absolutely incredible because finally people ... ordinary people will be able to have a chance to become astronauts, go into space," he said Tuesday morning on "CTM." 

"There are only 500 people who have ever been into space. They are the privileged astronauts ... we just want to enable people to become astronauts and experience it," Branson explained.

Branson says the two-hour flights are just the beginning of his intergalactic efforts. "I think over the next 20 years, we will take literally hundreds of thousands of people to space and that will give us the financial resources to do even bigger things," he said. 

"That will give us the resources then to put satellites into space at a fraction of the price, which can be incredibly useful for thousands of different reasons."

Speaking to whether the new venture was a adventure-oriented personal mission or a savvy business decision, Branson said, "My approach to business is simply, I love creating things. And then I try to make sure it ends up paying the bills at the end of the year."

Branson also said he's lined up to be the first Virgin Galactic customer. "I'll be going up with my children on the first flight next year," he said on Tuesday.

And while some have bemoaned federal funding cuts to NASA, Branson sees it as a positive development for the private sector. "You've got a Democratic party who have decided, 'Let's now let private enterprise take this forward,'" he said. "I think they're absolutely right. The private companies can do it at a fraction of the price."

But Branson isn't just set on visiting space for hours at a time. "In my lifetime, I'm determined to being a part of starting a population on Mars," he said," before adding "I think it is absolutely realistic. It will happen."

Coming back to Earth, Branson touched on the state of air travel in the U.S., telling Charlie Rose, "I think everybody knows that the quality of U.S. carriers is pretty abysmal," but went on to claim that the current merger-heavy state of the American air industry is unecessary. "I don't think they do have to merge to survive," he said.

Lastly, he told co-host Gayle King that soon, it will be feasible to fly from the U.S. to Australia in close to just two hours."

"We will, in the not too distant future, do point-to-point travel at the fastest times ever done," Branson said.

Watch Branson's full "CTM" interview in the video above.