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With eyes on NASA, Mars, Elon Musk still dreams big

Even with NASA and Mars on SpaceX's horizon, serial entrepreneur Elon Musk says he plans to stay put at electric carmaker Tesla.

"I'll continue to be involved with Tesla as far into the future as I can possibly tell...," he said in an interview on CNBC'S "Closing Bell," Tuesday. "I feel good about being able to produce a compelling mass-market car in the next three years."

Tesla shares closed more than 3 percent higher on Tuesday, but edged lower in after-hours trading. (Click here to see what the stock is doing now.)

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As his other venture, SpaceX, vies against established players such as Boeing for a big NASA contract, Musk said his firm will just keep going, even if the contract falls through. He noted that SpaceX's progression would be slowed down if the U.S. government doesn't choose the company's Dragon V2 as the next crew carrier to the International Space Station.

"It's possible that we may not win the commercial crew contract... we'll do our best to continue on our own, with our own money," Must said. "We would not be where we are today without the help of NASA."

SpaceX, which was just named No. 1 on CNBC's second annual CNBC Disruptor 50 list, recently unveiled the Dragon V2, a spacecraft that it hopes will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as 2016.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft, in Hawthorne, California on May 29, 2014.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft, in Hawthorne, California on May 29, 2014.

For now, Musk says the company is focused on creating technology that will enable large groups of people to travel to Mars.

"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he said. "But the thing that matters long term is to have a self sustaining city on Mars, to make life multi-planetary."

He acknowledged that the company's plans were too long-term to attract many hedge fund managers, which makes it hard for SpaceX to go public anytime soon.

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"We need to get where things a steady and predictable," Musk said. "Maybe we're close to developing the Mars vehicle, or ideally we've flown it a few times, then I think going public would make more sense."

Musk said he's invested in Vicarious—a start-up that uses artificial intelligence to enable machines to emulate the human brain—but admitted that the growing industry could be potentially dangerous.

"There's been movies about this, like 'Terminator,'" he said. "There's some scary outcomes and we should try to make sure the outcomes are good, not bad."

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