Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg pledged Tuesday to beat billionaire Elon Musk’s rocket company to Mars.
“I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” Muilenburg said at a conference.
“That business model isn’t closed yet. At some point it will,” Mulienburg said. “The future of innovation has to include not only the technology, but economic viability.”
Boeing was deeply involved in NASA’s Apollo program, which sent astronauts to the moon, and is currently developing the space agency’s Space Launch System, which will eventually send U.S. astronauts to Mars. The aerospace giant is also working to build out the commercial space sector near earth as spaceflight becomes more routine.
Muilenburg sees “dozens” of hotels in Earth’s orbit alongside numerous companies pursuing micro-gravity manufacturing and research. He is even considering getting Boeing into the space tourism business.
Musk, the CEO and founder of the rocket company SpaceX, plans to send a manned spacecraft to the Red Planet and then colonize it within a decade. Musk told the audience of a conference he held in late September that he plans to reduce the costs of going to Mars to that of buying a new house. He didn’t specify how he’d do it, only noting that fully reusable rockets, orbital refueling and production of rocket fuel on Mars would be involved. Musk plans to send the first missions to Mars in 2018 or 2020.
The first leg of the race to Mars between SpaceX and Boeing is attempting to be the first private company to send humans to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has a human test flight planned for October 2017, while Boeing has a flight scheduled for May 2018.
NASA is working with both Boeing and Space X to allow private companies to resupply and recrew the ISS.
In just over a year, “we may see our first test-crewed flight,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, told reporters. “This is new, and not a lot of people have had a lot of experience on this.”
Without Boeing and SpaceX, NASA’s plans to return astronauts to Earth’s orbit without Russian help are dependent on SpaceX, Boeing and other private companies.
SpaceX and Boeing, along with other companies, have made huge advancements in reusable rocketry. Reusable space technology is considered a major advance because it has the potential to lower the costs of getting into orbit, which are high due to expensive rocket components.
SpaceX seems to suspect that dirty tricks may have already been used to get a leg up in the race. SpaceX employees, investigating the explosion of one of its rockets, attempted to access the roof of a nearby building owned by SpaceX’s business rival, United Launch Alliance (ULA), anonymous industry sources told The Washington Post. ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
Private companies aren’t the only ones racing to Mars. India’s scientists have already flown tests for the country’s own reusable Space Shuttle, and estimate that the final version could make launching satellites 10 times cheaper than it is today. China is becoming increasingly assertive in space and is planning a mission to Mars.
Only a small group of private companies such as Scaled Composites, Blue Origin and SpaceX have successfully operated a reusable spacecraft.
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