The next space race is well underway
Last week, Elon Musk unveiled his ambitious goals for his company SpaceX, which includes the colonization of Mars. It was a bold plan that will theoretically change the course of human history. And it turns out that it isn’t the only plan of its kind.
Not to be outdone by its rival, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg claimed that his company is also planning on sending humans to Mars. And it intends to beat Space X there.
Basically, we have a new space race in the making, but this one is coming from the private sector.
During a conference on Tuesday, Muilenburg said that he’s “convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket.” Boeing is currently working on a rocket that is a direct competitor to SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System, which will theoretically transport a hundred or more people to Mars per trip.
While SpaceX is claiming that it could have people on Mars by 2022, realistically, we are probably several years from putting humans on the Red Planet. And when we do reach that milestone, it will probably be years more before we can send large groups with the intention of staying for long periods of time. Even then, it’s still not clear how the colonists will live and in what type of habitat.
There’s also the cost. SpaceX is hoping to eventually get the price around $200,000 per person, but that includes a huge amount of funding from sources that haven’t been defined yet. That includes private funding, much of which may come from Musk himself. Meanwhile, Boeing’s plan requires at least $60 billion that it hopes to collect from NASA and the government. With that, it hopes to reach Mars in the 2030s.
Before either company can truly look to Mars though, they both need to reach orbit with humans. SpaceX is planning on sending a crewed mission into space using its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule, while Boeing is preparing its CTS-100. Both are set to send crews up in 2017.
While Boeing and SpaceX may be looking to Mars, they face plenty of competition here on Earth. Virgin Galactic is still recovering from a test flight that resulted in a fatality, but it is pushing on. Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft isn’t far behind. There is also the looming specter of the corproations actively trying to slow their rivals through business maneuvers, and possibly something darker. On September 1, a SpaceX rocket exploded on the launchpad, leading many to speculate that it may have been sabotage. Musk publically stated that sabotage was unlikely, but he didn’t rule it out. He accepted that it was apossibility.
With that many players jockeying for what is essentially the future of humanity, there may be others that want to try to dominate the commercial space travel industry. Mars may be the most visible prize, but there is also the moon and asteroid belt to consider. Even if the costs are exorbitant, the rewards of being the company to lead humanity beyond Earth are countless.
While the American space program remains a high point in history, it wouldn’t have reached the moon without the competition from the Soviet Union – in fact, it may not have existed at all. The nations drove each other to go further and faster than many believed possible, and in the process, they advanced all technology.
The world’s priorities have changed, as has the political landscape. Nations are more interested in winning trade agreements than in pushign the boundaries of what’s possible. While the prospect of the private sector leading the charge to space may carry the risk of the future being dominated by organizations whose primary function is to turn a profit, the advancements will benefit all of mankind.
Competition breeds innovation, and with several groups looking to reach Mars and beyond as quickly as possible, the odds of humanity stepping on the Red Planet seems more and more like a certainty. It’s now just a matter of who gets there first.