Next Stop: Mars

Next Stop: Mars

Wesley Lathrop

Space used to be something that only a select few got to see, but that could be changing very soon. Multiple space organizations are working towards possibly the most important astronomical milestone since the Moon. Another race similar to the famous Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union is starting to emerge. Instead of being between warring countries, this time private companies, mainly SpaceX, and national corporations like NASA are speeding to Mars. The main goal for SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk is to create a self-sustainable civilization on the red planet. NASA is a little more realistic with its objectives. While civilization is the end goal, first they have to safely get people onto the planet 140 million miles away.

Elon Musk is reaching for the stars with his dreams to inhabit Mars, but they might not be as far out as it may seem. While a full civilization is still out in the distance, SpaceX is currently in the prototype stage of a manned spaceship that will be a reusable spaceship to bus the first astronauts. Paul Wooster, SpaceX’s principal Mars development engineer stated, “In terms of the vision that we’re moving toward, it’s really to enable cities on Mars and everything that comes with having a city, having a large and growing population.” 

SpaceX is mainly concerned with the transportation side of the project and is more than willing to let other companies design and create the other pieces of the puzzle. Bob Lathrop stated in an interview that companies should work together because “they could get more done together,” and that you “can’t think [about Earth] business on another planet.” The Starship rocket along with the Super Heavy booster is Elon’s solution to the transportation problem. This revolutionary spaceship is designed to be launched into an Earth orbit, fueled while in orbit, land on Mars, refuel with natural resources on the planet, and then return to Earth when the time comes. Because the ideal travel window is short and only comes around about every 26 months, it’s a rush to launch during these windows to maximize productivity. Therefore, SpaceX may launch multiple robotic missions to the planet during the next window in late July and early August.

Creating a functioning society on another planet would be extremely beneficial to the human race as a whole. Elon Musk stated that it’s very important to establish a civilization on another planet to ensure “the continuance of consciousness as we know it.” In case of a nuclear war or a different apocalyptic event that could wipe out the people of Earth, another settlement is almost necessary. However, moving people from Earth to Mars is going to be a very difficult transition. When asked what it would take to move to Mars, Reilly Dillon responded by saying that it “would have to be safe for non-astronauts,” and a complete “civilization.” Bob Lathrop answered the question similarly saying that it would have to “have safe places to live,” and he “wouldn’t want to wear a helmet” all the time either.

NASA is also preparing for a manned mission in the near future. As of now, they are planning for the first manned trip to Mars in 2025. They are well on their way to meeting that goal as a new land rover touched down on the planet in early February. This rover is crucial to the program because its main purpose is to determine if Mars has the potential for human life. It has been tasked with testing an oxygen production method and searching for subsurface water. This is necessary before humans can even think about setting foot on the red planet. Finding water would be a massive discovery because it could hold life, and would be hugely helpful to creating, and sustaining human civilization.

Creating a bustling civilization on Mars is something that we are striving towards as a society, but it’s going to take a combination of efforts from a lot of people to make it happen. The potential for humans to inhabit another planet brings up another question: What happens next? Would we find another planet to colonize? Search for other life in the universe? Reilly thinks that the next step should be to “set something up on the Moon.” Whatever happens, the events that are to unfold in the next few years could very well change the way humans live forever.