President Obama joined the call for humanity to become a multi-planetary species.
“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time,” the President said in an op-ed piece published by CNN. “Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.”
Obama’s statement comes shortly after Musk gave a talk at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico in which he set forth his plan for colonizing Mars. According to Musk’s vision, SpaceX’s largest and most powerful rocket ever built will carry 100 settlers to the Red Planet. Crew will build a fuel processing facility on Mars that will provide a source of power for the inhabitants and SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System that will transport humans from Mars back to earth.
Following the president’s editorial on humans taking the giant leap to Mars, SpaceX spokesperson Phil Larson told The Observer, “SpaceX was founded with the ultimate goal of helping make humans a multi-planetary species. As Elon said at his recent talk, it will take a combination of public and private efforts to build a self-sustaining city on Mars. It’s exciting to see President Obama advocate for the next frontier in human spaceflight, and we look forward to participating in the journey.”
Obama will convene the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh later this week. Hosted by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, the conference will bring together “America’s leading scientists, engineers, innovators and students in Pittsburgh to dream up ways to build on our progress and find the next frontiers,” the president said.
SpaceX is not the only company pushing a Mars agenda forward. NASA is developing a Space Launch System to be used with the Orion spacecraft created by Lockheed Martin. The plan is to set up a “Mars Base Camp” space station in Martian orbit using SLS and Orion rather than going straight to landing people on the surface of Mars. That effort is targeted for sometime after 2030.
Not to be left behind, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg stated last week that his company will be the first to transport humans to Mars. In addition, he foresees at number of tourist destinations orbiting the earth that people will be able to fly to in order to leave their earthly cares behind.
Getting to Mars will require cooperation from many public and private organizations. Competition is good, but building three different rockets and three different space transport systems would seem to be wildly inefficient. No doubt there will be some convergence between the various programs over time.
But Musk, as usual, is the one pushing the envelope the furthest and the fastest. He plans to send an unmanned mission to Mars as early as 2018 and expects the first Mars colony to be operational within a decade. SpaceX may need the help of NASA and others to meet its goals, but there is no question that, when it comes to Mars, Elon Musk plans to get there first.