Photo: SPLOID, Jesus Diaz, 2014
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX, was founded almost 16 years ago with the intention to reduce space transportation costs and begin the colonization of Mars. Founder, Elon Musk, faced some challenges getting the company off the ground, including facing bankruptcy in 2008 after three failed launches. However, Musk’s entrepreneurism has led him through his challenges and his company is now the face of space exploration for the future. He has not stopped because he believes that “we are doing what we can to have the future be as good as possible, to be inspired by what is likely to happen and to look forward to the next day” (CNBC, 2017).
SpaceX’s outlook started to get better after they successfully launched Falcon 1 for the fourth time in September 2008. As a result, they won a $1.5 billion contract with NASA. Almost ten years later, SpaceX launched its largest satellite yet; it is almost the size of a school bus and just last month, Musk launched a vehicle from his automobile company, Tesla. A Tesla Roadster took a journey into space for six hours, showing how SpaceX is able to place objects deep into space.
One of the programs SpaceX is known for is its reusable launch system development program. Started in 2011, it is designed to develop new technologies for an orbital launch that may be reused, similar to how an airplane is reused after each journey. This program is extremely important to the future of space exploration, particularly the exploration of other planets like Mars. Space exploration is costly in terms of research and time, so finding ways to cut capital costs will help faster innovation.
Another goal of Musk’s is to send people to Mars. In October 2017, Musk said he is planning an unmanned mission to Mars by 2022 and a manned mission two years later. He estimates that a ticket to Mars would cost $10 billion per person, but once SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System is fully operational the cost could lower to $200,000 per person. A key component of getting to Mars is to think smarter about space exploration by keeping down the cost.
The glaring question is if there will be a private-public partnership with NASA on this project. Combining SpaceX’s cutting-edge technology and future forwardness with NASA’s institutional experience is a possible solution. However, SpaceX is not the only company looking to send people to Mars. Other private companies include Mars One, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. Which company or coalition who will win the race to Mars? Only time will tell.
SpaceX’s initiatives can give us insight into the potential realities of the future. To the average person, it is hard to believe that there could be colonies of people on Mars sometime this century. Private companies, like SpaceX, have taken the initiative to innovate and think about that future. NASA only has a budget of $20 million a year to try to get people to Mars. They have a tentative plan to get people to the Red Planet by 2040; however, past and current administrations have other plans for NASA which include going back to the moon and budget cuts.
It is imperative to become smarter about space exploration, this includes building technology that is more efficient and finding ways to keep the cost of research under control. If this is accomplished a home on Mars could be well within reach.
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