Boeing says it will beat SpaceX to Mars
But Elon Musk probably doesn’t mind if it does
Less than a week after SpaceX founder Elon Musk detailed his vision to get people to Mars, a rival aerospace company has intimated that it plans to beat Musk (and everyone else) to the punch.
However, Musk is probably OK with that.
Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing (one of SpaceX’s biggest competitors) casually loosed the remark during a session of The Atlantic’s “What’s Next?” conference.
“I’m convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket,” Muilenburg said during the recorded event.
Boeing has good ground to stand on with its claim, not the least of which includes some moon dust.
After all, it was the company that helped build the ultra-powerful Saturn V rocket, which blasted Apollo-era equipment and astronauts to the moon and back. NASA also contracted Boeing to build its similarly huge Space Launch System (SLS), which should eventually be capable of sending up to 20 metric tonnes — roughly five large, fully grown elephants’ worth of mass — to Mars after its scheduled debut in 2018.
Meanwhile, SpaceX plans to debut its most powerful rocket yet, the Falcon Heavy, in early 2017, despite a recent launchpad explosion and ongoing investigation. That rocket should be able to lift about 13 metric tonnes to Mars.
If the sweeping vision that Musk laid out last week during a keynote speech at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, is to be believed, SpaceX could start sending uncrewed Dragon capsules to Mars as soon as 2018 and 2020, then later land the first people on the red planet in 2022.
But Musk may not mind if Boeing uses SLS to beat SpaceX.
“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 multiplanetary,” Musk said during his talk.
Further, when someone in the IAC conference’s audience asked the billionaire if would be the first person on Mars, Musk expressed some ambivalence.
“I think it’s good for there to be multiple paths to Mars ... to have multiple irons in the fire,” he said.
Musk went on:
“I think it’s actually much better for the world if there are multiple companies or organisations building these interplanetary spacecraft. You know, the more the better. Anything, I think, that improves the probability of the future is good. And so multiple companies doing it, I think, would be great. So I wanted to come describe the architecture actually in the hopes that this would encourage companies and organisations around the world to perhaps do something like this.”
Whether or not Boeing, SpaceX, or both companies reach Mars, however, NASA is perhaps best-poised to benefit. With multiple potential options to get to the red planet, the agency may be able to more rapidly advance the world’s understanding of that world.
In a statement responding to news about Musk’s vision, the space agency wrote:
“NASA applauds all those who want to take the next giant leap – and advance the journey to Mars. We are very pleased that the global community is working to meet the challenges of a sustainable human presence on Mars. This journey will require the best and the brightest minds from government and industry, and the fact that Mars is a major topic of discussion is very encouraging.
“At NASA, we’ve worked hard over the past several years to develop a sustainable Mars exploration plan, and to build a coalition of international and private sector partners to support this vision. And we’ve made extraordinary progress implementing this plan, working with a number of international and private sector partners.”
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