It is obvious now that the race to Mars is on, and Boeing’s CEO seems to believe that the megarocket his company is helping to build for NASA will deliver astronauts to the Red Planet before billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Boeing is the main contractor for the first stage of NASA’s giant Space Launch System , which is designed to launch astronauts on deep-space missions using the space agency’s new Orion spacecraft. (United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne are also SLS contractors.) NASA hopes to build a “Deep Space Gateway” near the moon before using SLS and Orion vehicles to send explorers to Mars. The first test launch is scheduled for 2019.
Very confident in his mission, CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that “eventually we’re going to go to Mars and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket.” He then added that they are working on the next generation rocket right in this moment together with their NASA customers called “Space Launch System.” “This is a rocket that’s about 36 stories tall, we’re in the final assembly right now, down near New Orleans. And we’re going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we’re going to do a slingshot mission around the moon.”
On the other hand, when he talks about Mars, Elon Musk sees SpaceX as the main driver. The work SpaceX does in low Earth orbit — both right now as a NASA contractor with its Falcon 9 rocket and in the future with its planned successor, the BFR, are about bringing in the funds and resources necessary so that SpaceX can pay for its own Mars plans. Plans can obviously change a lot between now and 2022, when Musk says the first uncrewed BFR will make the journey to Mars, but for now he has consistently described it as an entirely private venture.
The current schedules call for SpaceX to conduct a crewed demonstration flight with its Dragon capsule next August, while Boeing plans the first crewed flight of its Starliner space taxi in November 2018. But those schedules have been shifting to the right for years, so it’s too early to call the race.
However, it seems that the statement in a way provoked Musk to respond on Twitter with the two words that may as well sum up his career: “Do it.”
What else to say then – Who dares, wins.