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Who Will Have the First Successful Manned Mission to Mars?

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Colonizing another planet is one of our most far-fetched yet sought-out goals. If, like us, you yearn for humanity to be a multi-planetary species, join us in encouraging those who are able to make that happen.

Three plans and one destination: SpaceX, NASA and Mars One are three organizations with manned missions to Mars in mind. Who will be the first to get us to the Red Planet?

In 1971, two Soviet orbiters, Mars 2 and 3, successfully landed on Mars. Five years later, NASA followed with two other landers, Viking 1 and 2.
Several decades and probes later, data hasn’t yet revealed any signs of existing or even past Martian life.

The rover Opportunity, which was only projected to last 90 days on the planet, recently celebrated its 5000th day on Mars. In all that time of tirelessly searching for life, it has found nothing.

From time to time, a tantalizing press release is announced about the making of a potential discovery on Mars, perpetuating hopes of some celestial neighbors.

However, more often than not, these hopes get dented pretty quickly.
The seasonal Martian flows? They’re most likely not liquid water but avalanches of sand and dust.

Mars methane? Not necessarily of biological origin, it could be from geological sources.

Lying on the outer edge of the solar system’s habitable zone, Mars seems to be utterly bereft of life. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less appealing for colonization.

You see, we may one day get to the Red Planet and sow the seeds of life there, which would be game-changing for both Mars and humanity.
In 2018, the race for a successful mission to Mars is officially on with different organizations and countries each having their own Mars agenda.
Let’s take a look at three players who seem to be the most likely to get us there:

SpaceX “2024”: Musk’s Multiplanetary Dream

Elon Musk is selling us on a dream, and we’re so in!

Not only does SpaceX promise to get humans to Mars, it also has a project with an aggressive and tight timeline.

SpaceX plans to launch the first cargo mission to Mars in 2022. Then, if everything goes off without a hitch, it would follow up with a crewed mission in 2024.

The startup has been working hard for several years to develop hardware that is efficient, safe, and economical.

Above all, SpaceX has made rocket reusability its motto and strength.

In 2012, the Falcon 9 orbital rocket helped SpaceX become the first private company to ever reach the ISS. In the following five years, the Falcon 9 has made many journeys to space. Among these, the carrying of the Dragon capsule and different payload cargos to and from the ISS have given the startup a strong name in the astronomical field.

However, the Falcon 9 is only an entry level rocket for SpaceX.

With three nine-engine cores, Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world today. If it weren’t for NASA’s Saturn V, which transported Apollo mission crews to the moon, Falcon Heavy would be the most powerful launch vehicle ever made.

On February 6, 2018, Falcon Heavy managed to shock the world by flying into space carrying a red Tesla Roadster and a dummy in a spacesuit, with David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” on loop.

Now, Starman and Musk’s Roadster are drifting through space. On their journey through space, they may get well beyond Mars and keep orbiting the Sun until possibly coming back to crash on Earth in millions of years.

But for his plan for a mission to Mars, Musk is betting on another transportation system, the BFR, which stands for Big F***ing Rocket. The name alone tells you everything you need to know about the demeanor of this budding space exploration giant.

As it is designed as a single vehicle with a booster and a spaceship, the BFR could eventually replace the two other Falcon rockets as well as the Dragon spacecraft

Hours after the successful test launch of the Falcon Heavy, Musk revealed in a press conference that SpaceX engineering efforts would next focus mostly on the BFR.

Musk said that the aim now is to run the first full-scale test of BFR within three to four years.

Learn more about the specifics of Elon Musk’s BFR Mars colonization plan. In short, however, Elon Musk plans to launch cargo missions to the Red Planet which will establish a functional space station by 2022.

NASA “2030s”: Against all Budgetary Odds

Nothing seems to bridle NASA’s imagination except federal policy-makers. So much so that the agency has announced last summer that it won’t be able to carry on with its mission to Mars plan due to budget constraints.

This isn’t the first time money has gotten in the way of NASA projects.

In 2010, after years of development, NASA abandoned the  Constellation project that was supposed to get American astronauts back onto the moon.

NASA also had discontinued its Saturn V moon rocket, which made its last trip in 1973. The reasons given were that it was deemed too expensive and that they wanted to focus on the space shuttle instead.

Then, in 2011, the agency also to give up on the space shuttle program and began relying on Russian launch vehicles to carry its astronauts and cargos to the ISS.

However, NASA hasn’t scrapped its Journey to Mars project altogether.

The agency still states its aim of sending human explorers to Mars in the 2030s. Before getting to that, NASA’s Mars plan would evolve through three distinct stages:

Earth Reliant (until the mid-2020s): This phase will be about accumulating knowledge about prolonged stays and continuing space research in the ISS, which will shut down in 2024.

Proving Ground (2018-2030): The next stage will see the moon serve as a testing ground with frequent trips to cislunar space for crews and hardware.

Earth Independent (2030s and beyond): This is the culmination of NASA’s mission to Mars plan. As human crews would get to Mars’ low-orbit, NASA astronauts would put to use descent and landing techniques as well as in-situ resources utilization methods and gears.

Beyond the transportation means of the SLS rocket and Orion, whose first flight has been rescheduled to late 2019, NASA has also been thinking about ways to provide enough energy to meet the needs of future spacefarers.

The Kilopower project aims at developing mini nuclear reactors that in addition to being transportable, would also operate autonomously and don’t depend on outside sources, such as solar.

Mars One “2032”: One-way Ticket to Mars

The Dutch foundation, Mars One, probably won’t be the first to get to Mars as it doesn’t intend to build its own rockets and spacecraft. Instead, the company is planning on relying on third-party solutions.

Nevertheless, it earns a spot here because, after SpaceX and NASA, Mars One has perhaps the most aggressive plan for a mission to Mars.

Like NASA in a way, money seems to be Mars One’s Achilles heel.

If NASA is driven mainly by scientific spirit, and Musk doesn’t hide his commercial motives, Mars One’s goal is to take humans to Mars, and leave them there.

Last September, the not-for-profit foundation issued a press release regarding the status of the mission, confirming the previous roadmap and providing financial projections.

In this conference, Mars One said it will not serve as an aerospace company and that it would recruit the help of third-party providers.

While SpaceX will be in charge of launches, aerospace companies like the Paragon Space Development CorporationThales Alenia Space, and Lockheed Martin will be tasked with the design of Mars One’s hardware.

“We are delighted to release these projections,” said Bas Lansdorp, CEO and co-founder of Mars One. “They support that Mars One’s growing community of loyal followers, advisers, suppliers, partners, and shareholders can fund the next giant leap for humanity.”

Mars One’s target date of launching its first crewed mission to Mars is 2031, and they would land in 2032. In all, they project that it would all cost around $6 billion, including preparation.

Ten years before that, in 2022, the foundation plans to launch a robotic demonstrative mission, followed by three other preparatory missions in 2024, 2026, and 2029.

After the first landing in 2032, additional crews will be dispatched to Mars once every two years.

Mars One said that NASA’s Mars journey is undermined by the complexity and expensiveness of the return trip.

For that reason, the foundation opted for a permanent Martian camp as people who get selected and trained would stay there forever.

The Martian Race is On

All three of these contenders certainly have the chance to be the first to put humans on Mars. However, with decade-long projection plans and billions of dollars of funding, it’s anyone’s guess who will be the first to make history.

In any case, it’s safe to say that the next ten years will see some significant advances in space exploration and competition. Who knows, maybe the company who will get us to Mars doesn’t exist yet. But, with the ever-increasing hype and funding around these projects, it’s certainly a time of wishful thinking.



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