The Space Race, Edition 1, began in 1955, between America and the USSR. Both countries were locked in a cold war, and rushing to get their vessels out into the vast unknown beyond the Earth’s atmosphere first. Russia beat America to it, by sending Sputnik 1 into orbit in 1957, and then by sending it into space in 1961.
America upped the game by being the first country to land humans on the moon in 1969.
The race put space exploration at the forefront of technological advancements. It gave birth to wildly beneficial spin-off technologies, including communications and weather satellites systems. Funding toward education and R&D for space exploration spiked. And it gave both countries crazy bragging rights.
Over 50 years have passed since then. Now, the competing superpowers aren’t countries. They’re tech giants. And they’re gunning for something a little farther away than the moon.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, has made it clear for a while that he plans to send humans to Mars. And he wants to do it as early as 2024.
The goal? A thriving colony on the Red Planet, and sustainable interplanetary transportation.
Musk announced at the International Astronautical Congress that he has plans to build 1000 spaceships to take people to Mars. These ships will be huge, larger than NASA’s Saturn V.
A few days ago, a contender entered the ring.
Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing, said, “I’m convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket,” at the What’s Next technology conference in Chicago.
It’s not surprising that Boeing would get into the Mars race. They’re one of the biggest contractors of NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket, which will eventually be capable of taking six astronauts to Mars. But Muilenberg also said that he sees near-Earth recreational trips “blossoming into a commercial market” over the next few decades, so he’s not just building these rockets for astronauts.
NASA projects that they’ll have people on Mars by the 2030s, ten years later than Musk’s predictions. Muilenberg’s announcement suggests that some people aren’t very convinced by Musk’s estimates. That’s not going to stop Musk, but it’s interesting to note that SpaceX’s Mars spaceships are self funded, while Boeing is flush with NASA’s billions in funding.
What this means is that we have another space race on our hands, folks!
And this is good! For one thing, it means we’ll get there faster. Nothing gets shit done like a little competition. And, hopefully, it means that funding will improve for these types of projects. The race will also create a ton of jobs, and give off beneficial spin-off technologies, just like the first one did.
It remains to be seen whether people will actually go to Mars, after it becomes possible to do it, but until then, I’m excited to watch these two tech behemoths battle it out to be the first to turn men into martians.