The modern space race has become more competitive in recent months, with major players such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins, as well as government agencies like the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) or the European Space Agency making impressive strides in space technology.
Mars seems to be the next frontier to be conquered, with Musk recently announcing plans to colonize the red planet over the next decade by developing a gigantic space vehicle- dubbed ‘ the Interplanetary Transport System’. Now, a new challenge has been issued to SpaceX by Boeing CEO Denis Muilenberg, who claims that the aviation company will be the first one to put a human on Mars.
Boeing’s lofty ambitions
“I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” said Muilenburg during a recent conference on innovation held in Chicago, sponsored by the Atlantic magazine.
During the event, Muilenberg laid out a futuristic vision under which a commercial space-travel market would be developed with dozens of destinations orbiting the Earth and hypersonic aircraft carrying travelers between continents in two hours and less. Boeing is currently working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to create a heavy-lift rocket for deep space exploration called the Space Launch System (SLS), and intends to be a key player in the race to conquer Mars.
Will Boeing’s lofty ambitions come to fruition though? That mainly depends when NASA plans to go to Mars, and as reports have suggested, space agency aims to send humans to Mars in the 2030s only. Compare this with Elon Musk’s plans for a manned mission to Mars- an unmanned Dragon 2 spaceship will land on Mars by 2018, followed by a manned mission departing in 2024, and landing in 2025.
Musk unfazed, welcomes competition
Elon Musk has welcomed the challenge, stating that greater competition will benefit the entire world.
“I really don’t have any other motivation for personally accumulating assets, except to be able to make the biggest contribution I can to making life multi-planetary. I think it’s actually much better for the world if there are multiple companies or organizations building these interplanetary spacecraft. You know, the more the better,” said Musk.
Putting humans on Mars is by no means an audacious task and will require painstaking planning and identifying all possible obstacles that can deter the mission, such as cosmic radiation, high costs, massive energy required to harvest water on the planet, deep space communication and planetary protection.
There is no denying that Boeing has been in the space business way longer than SpaceX, and has built a solid reputation right from the Apollo missions to present day operations. Consider this- Boeing, in collaboration with Lockheed Martin holds the record for the maximum number of consecutive successful rocket launches without mishap: 111 missions and counting.
Compared to that, SpaceX has a lot of catching to do, since its last planned mission was a spectacular failure when the Falcon 9 rocket exploded without even a launch! Did Muilenberg make his declaration based on an estimate of the actual feasibility of the Mars operation? It will be extremely interesting to see how the space wars evolve, as manned missions are altogether a very different playing field.