Last week, Elon Musk laid out his ambitions to colonize Mars. Now Boeing says they plan to get there first. And we’re left to wonder if we just witnessed the birth of a great rivalry about to unfold.
“I’m convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said at an innovation conference in Chicago. And the gloves are off.
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This comes only a week after Musk spoke at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara outlining his own plan to get people to Mars in less than ten years.
So either Muilenburg thinks Boeing can get to the red planet sooner or he thinks Musk will miss his targets. Either way, this is one battle we can’t wait to watch. It’s the space race all over again but we’re in the 2000s now and nations are replaced with corporations.
As for the logistics, SpaceX aims to ferry 1 million people to Mars over the course of the next 100 years using the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). SpaceX would launch a rocket holding roughly 100 people from Cape Canaveral, Florida and refuel in orbit before heading to Mars in a journey lasting between 80 and 130 days. Government agencies like NASA will likely play a large part in funding and supporting the missions while private companies like SpaceX will provide the means for transportation.
Of course, the journey to get to Mars will be fraught with challenges along the way. For the earliest volunteers, “the risk of fatality will be very high.”
Costs are another problem and Musk hasn’t figured out how to get around this yet. It would currently cost $10 billion per passenger to get them to Mars and he wants to bring this down by 5 million percent.
Undoubtedly, there are plenty of mechanical setbacks to come, as the Falcon 9 explosion two months ago shows us. To this day, SpaceX continues their investigation into the possible cause of the explosion.
Meanwhile, Boeing is working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop a heavy-lift rocket called the Space Launch System for deep space exploration. And Muilenburg envisions the Chicago-based aerospace giant being a big player in the space tourism market as decreasing costs make the option more economically viable.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s less about which company lands first as it is about getting to Mars successfully and creating a sustainable community. In a speech that seemed to galvanize the audience, Musk made it clear why he wants to get to Mars in the first place by reminding us of our collective childhood dream to see humanity become an interstellar species.
“One path is we stay on Earth forever, and there will be some eventual extinction event,” Musk said. “The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species, which I hope you will agree that is the right way to go.”
He paints it like it’s the next frontier.