Entrepreneur, environmentalist, adventurer and private-island owner Sir Richard Branson is taking on space flight with a plan to help build a colony on Mars within his lifetime. In an interview with CBS This Morning, the 62-year-old Virgin America CEO said he’s “determined to be part of starting a population on Mars.”

“It’s absolute realistic,” he added insistently to an incredulous-looking Charlie Rose. “It will happen.”

Branson said federal budget cuts to NASA have opened up an opportunity for the private sector. His spaceflight company Virgin Galactic plans to start offering commercial space flights — priced at $200,000 for a two-hour trip — beginning next year. And he says he and his kids will be on the first flight.

The Virgin America CEO has never been known as a shrinking violet. Last year, he celebrated the launch of the Virgin Galactic space terminal in New Mexico by opening a bottle of champagne while rappelling from a balcony.

Branson, a noted environmentalist and fan of Al Gore, didn’t mention the environmental impact of space tourism, which could soon surpass all of the world’s subsonic airplanes as a source of climate change.

He did say the ability to visit space will open up to a broader range of people as the price for a trip falls over time. He also said Virgin will be able to use profits from space tourism in the next 20 years to move into new territory, like putting more satellites into space for various uses and launching the Mars program.

Meanwhile, back in his core business closer to Earth, he acknowledged that the current quality of U.S. air carriers is “pretty abysmal.” Still, even for the bedraggled airline industry, Branson said has a shiny, if somewhat hard-to-swallow new vision: A flight from the U.S. to Australia in two and a half hours within his children’s lifetime.

Photo of Branson before the 2009 demonstration of WhiteKnight2 in 2009. Credit: Arnfinn Christensen/Wikimedia

Video credit: CBS News