Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of electric car company Tesla, is worried that a looming World War III could scupper his plans to build a human colony on Mars. He is concerned that events on Earth could lower our technology to a level where travelling to Mars is no longer theoretically possible.

Musk admits to thinking about colonising Mars "a fair bit" despite already being the boss of Tesla and rocket manufacturer SpaceX, which is currently developing reusable rockets that can land themselves. The 44-year-old says there is currently a timeframe in which humanity can create a means of colonising Mars, but the window could close if a third World War breaks out.

"There's a window that could be opened for a long time or a short time where we have an opportunity to establish a self-sustaining base on Mars, before something happens to drive the technology level on Earth below where it's possible," Musk said, wondering if the base could be completed "before spaceships from Earth stop going."

The possibility of World War 3

Musk worries that the spaceships would stop in the event of a major war. "I don't think we can discount the possibility of a third World War," he told GQ in a lengthy profile. "You know, in 1912 they were proclaiming a new age of peace and prosperity, saying that it was a golden age, war was over. And then you had World War I followed by World War II followed by the Cold War...we need to acknowledge that there's certainly a possibility of a third World War, and if that does occur it could be far worse than anything that's happened before."

Although he often talks about hugely complex projects – like living on Mars – as if they are taking place imminently, Musk admits that we will not see humans travel to the Red Planet until he is in his fifties, at least six years from 2015. The rocket he and his SpaceX colleagues hope will take humans there is known internally as the BFR – the Big F***ing Rocket.

Details of his plans to inhabit Mars will be unveiled in early 2016, Musk says, adding the announcement will "seem pretty crazy," and "it's really big. There's not been any architecture like this described that I'm aware of."