Humans have long dreamt of going to the Red Planet, Mars. Current NASA planning may see us finally accomplish that goal some time in the 2030s, but believe it or not, they have competition.
And we’re probably going back to the moon, first.
NASA’s Mission to Mars
According to Space.com, in the late 2020s NASA intends to send a group of astronauts to orbit the moon for an entire year, with the ultimate goal of establishing a “deep-space gateway.”
They’ll use this gateway first as a testing ground, sending multiple advanced payloads to construct it. Later, the gateway will function as a “launching point” for the first humans sent to Mars. This is a trip NASA says would take about 1,000 days, there and back again.
The whole plan, which they also say is “evolving,” will begin as soon as 2018, with multiple flights to the moon delivering components for future use.
NASA will use their new heavy-lift rocket, the SLS, or Space Launch System, to begin their journey. They say it will be the “most powerful rocket” they’ve ever built, designed specifically for distant space travel.
The SLS will propel the Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, which will carry four crew members on their voyage beyond low Earth orbit.
A manned test of the Orion spacecraft is scheduled for August 2021, during which they’ll perform a lunar flyby, and begin construction of the cislunar gateway.
SpaceX Joins the Fray
All that sounds great, but Elon Musk and SpaceX want to beat NASA to Mars, if they can.
First, however, they also intend to revisit the moon – by the end of 2018. This trip, if it happens, will be more recreational, essentially space tourism.
According to Space.com, the on-board travelers will be “two paying customers” on a “weeklong trip around” Earth’s satellite. That’s still a pretty big deal, enough so that many are skeptical it will even happen.
As for Mars, SpaceX has put forward a plan for their intended Mars mission. Or, as Futurism.com puts it in their fancy infographic here, “How Elon Musk Plans to Conquer Mars.”
Using their planned Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) and Interplanetary Spaceship, they want to send an unmanned mission to Mars by 2020, and humans by 2025.
If everything goes to plan, the ITS will be “the largest rocket ever built,” standing about 400 feet tall. The Interplanetary Spaceship, meanwhile, will be large enough to carry up to 100 passengers – along with everything a human voyager would need on such a long journey, including a movie theater. And a restaurant.
You heard right.
It’s an ambitious project, and just watching that speculative video up there (posted by SpaceX back in September 2016), it’s easy to see how things might not work out as envisioned. But we’ll see.
Perusing the comments, I also noticed at least one person wondering whether or not Elon Musk is actually a martian keen to get back home.
Now that’s an angle I’ll have to investigate further. I’ll keep you posted.
One Way Or Another
However things go down, I’ll be honest — I’m pretty excited about the idea of just going back to the moon. Sure, we’ve already been there, but I’d like to at least see us get out of low Earth orbit again.
And Mars? Our first step on an entirely different planet? We have issues to deal with right here on Earth, yes, but we’re only as strong as our ambitions. I’m ready to see it happen.
As for who will win the “race” to the Red Planet, I’m not entirely sure. Robert Zubrin, long-time advocate of a manned mission to Mars, believes it’s very likely the private sector billionaires will be the first to make it.
Me? I wouldn’t count NASA out.
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