Humans have been looking to the stars since they appeared on this great blue planet. Now top scientists and corporations are looking to Mars, the Red Planet, for colonization, and NASA and SpaceX are engaged in an epic face-off of scientific development in a new space race: the Mission to Mars.
The two organizations couldn’t be more different. NASA, a government funded program, is focused on scientific development and research, hoping to glean valuable historical and chemical information from Mars’ surface. SpaceX is focused on making space travel affordable for a future space-tourism industry, and is privately funded.
Both organizations have begun developing plans and technology to overcome the many challenges in “making humans a multiplanetary species,” as Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, likes to put it.
NASA has released plans to develop a Mars base camp to orbit Mars around 2028, and Musk has been developing his renowned Dragon rocket for years. SpaceX also launched and landed the first reusable Falcon 9 rocket, a huge advancement in affordable space travel.
With these advancements in mind, it appears as though SpaceX has its eyes set on Mars and will take quicker, more assertive steps to get there. But NASA, ever advancing its efforts toward the final frontier, has also completed multiple testing stages for its Orion craft, a comprehensive piece that will hold people on their mission to the Red Planet. Multiple booster and rocket tests have been completed.
In the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, when the 2016 budget for NASA was unveiled, the Orion and Dragon spacecraft were within feet of each other. In truth, NASA and SpaceX have shared data in the past and the space race of today is much more friendly between companies than it has been in the past.
The two organizations, it is safe to say, would be content simply to see American people take that small step, yet giant leap, onto the alien dust of the Red Planet. Based on the $2.6 billion grant that NASA gave to SpaceX, NASA seems eager to get any Americans on Mars and doesn’t care as much about whether they are NASA astronauts.
Nevertheless, NASA is working busily on the production and testing of Orion, the Space Launch System rocket, and the ground systems that will be needed for deep space travel. NASA has requested information for these systems and their sustainability, showing its focus on Mars and astronaut safety.
Recently, NASA released an article called, “Deep Space Gateway to Open Opportunities for Distant Destinations,” which reveals its plans for future test launches and is a crucial piece to NASA’s future space exploration within the solar system.
The deep space gateway is a “crew-tended spaceport in lunar orbit” which will allow space vehicles, mainly one reusable vehicle, to advance ever-deeper into space. Upon returning, vehicles can refuel and go back out for more missions.
NASA also conducted a Future Engineers Mars Medical Challenge for students K-12, which allowed the development of new tools for medical administration in microgravity, something far beyond any of the endeavors of SpaceX, which is mainly a rocket-producing and -testing company.
On one hand, the cooperation of the two organizations can speed along America’s space travel endeavors. Shared information can help SpaceX to develop better rocket technology that is more suited for Mars, and can give NASA a valuable partner among the American workforce and private space industry, but it has its downfalls.
SpaceX is privately funded, and many would argue that NASA’s intervention and grants can slow its progress by weakening an otherwise competitive company. In the past, the only thing that has pushed private science companies to success in our capitalist society has been the promise of a new discovery. To say that SpaceX has landed on Mars is to concede that privatized space travel is better than government efforts like NASA’s Orion.
It is almost as if NASA seeks only to weaken the opponent by joining forces with them, but this will only slow the space program. Now SpaceX has a debt to NASA, and no matter how small, the people will remember the government’s contribution to such a major achievement. This weakening force will undoubtedly make SpaceX less competitive, and therefore, less efficient.
Furthermore, this grant shows NASA’s inability to cope with the competition that other organizations provide. Many parts of NASA’s own projects are subject to smaller workforces because of a lack of willing scientists or government restriction. Some programs, like the many NASA challenges, push the science community and show NASA as a great beneficiary of the American future. Its partnership with SpaceX shows it as a shut-off organization, interested only in success and willing to compromise its main purpose of discovering the future and doing the impossible.