In President Barack Obama’s first presidential address, he vowed to return science to prominence in U.S. society. Now, at the end of his second term, Obama has renewed his vow by setting a clear goal to send humans to Mars and back by the 2030s.
In his first few months in office, Obama made multiple attempts to boost science within the United States, calling for a reinvigoration of U.S. space programs to further explore the solar system and to “look deeper into the universe than ever.”
Under Obama’s presidency, NASA’s technological innovations have flourished. The life of the International Space Station was extended, flowing water was discovered on Mars and evidence of ice was found on one of Jupiter’s moons.
With the new goal of getting humans to Mars in mind, Obama traveled to Pittsburgh to host the White House Frontiers Conference on Oct. 13.
This conference was co-hosted by the Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and the White House. The main goal of the conference was to push frontiers and progress in space.
However, ventures to space are costly and not without risk. Obama understands that successful space exploration and travel cannot be accomplished without collaboration with private companies.
“Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way,” said Obama.
This cooperation has already been seen in the current space program, allowing NASA astronauts to install a new dock on the ISS in August. Furthermore, the space station has a goal of receiving crewed spacecrafts from aerospace company Boeing and private spaceflight company SpaceX in 2017 and 2018.
Currently, NASA is working with commercial companies to develop a habitat system to keep humans alive during a voyage to Mars and a system to eventually allow humans to colonize the planet. This program has a coalition of six companies working on prototypes for deep space habitat modules.
According to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the goal for the project is to create habitats that could evolve into spacecraft that have the capacity to transport astronauts on long space missions while properly sustaining their life functions. This project is only in its testing stages, but it is an important start to NASA’s research focused on Mars.
Private companies are also playing major roles in space travel and exploration. SpaceX is currently developing a rocket and capsule large enough to transport 100 passengers on each voyage to Mars. The company is still investigating its recent explosion of a rocket carrying an Israeli satellite in early September, but CEO Elon Musk remains persistent in his plans to colonize the red planet.
In 2018, SpaceX plans to launch its first unmanned mission to Mars to test descent, entry and landing systems. This mission will be supported by NASA, which will be providing deep space and Mars communication relays and consultation services in exchange for flight data.
SpaceX, however, is not the only private company in the race to Mars. In the beginning of October, Boeing boasted that it would beat SpaceX to the red planet.
The company’s plan to travel to Mars involves putting a crewed space station in orbit around the moon to serve as a type of midway point in sending astronauts deeper toward the planet.
Boeing’s plan is to assemble the station between 2021 and 2025 by using available space on NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. The Mars mission would follow in the 2030s.
Blue Origin also aims to contribute to the Mars initiative. Blue Origin is designing a heavy-lift launch vehicle and capsule called New Armstrong, which will be capable providing transportation on Mars.
Aside from these three major contributors, there are more than 1,000 companies across all 50 states and certainly many more abroad that are working on private space initiatives, according to Obama.
“When our Apollo astronauts looked back from space, they realized that while their mission was to explore the moon, they had ‘in fact discovered the Earth,’” said Obama.
With so much cooperation between NASA and private companies, as well as a healthy competitive edge urging them along, no one knows what the future will hold and what will be discovered from these multiple space exploration projects.What is certain, however, is that humanity will benefit from a better understanding of Earth and its place in the universe.