NASA Says They're Not Racing SpaceX to Mars

Wednesday, 02 November 2016 - 12:52PM
NASA
SpaceX
Mars
Wednesday, 02 November 2016 - 12:52PM
NASA Says They're Not Racing SpaceX to Mars
According Elon Musk, we could be sending humans to Mars by the early 2020s (President Obama has set the date closer to the 2030s). But before we have new Martians running around the surface of the Red Planet, SpaceX is planning on bringing samples from Mars back to Earth to study, probably around 2018. This is something that seems like the territory of NASA, considering they've already invested several million dollars in sending hardware like Curiosity and Opportunity to Mars. It seems like SpaceX is getting on NASA's turf here, but the reality is that NASA has no interest in making Mars exploration into a new space race.

According to Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's new Associate Administrator for Science:

Opening quote
"If Elon Musk brought the samples in the door right now I'd throw him a party out of my own money...I think that would be a huge success out of the strategies that were pursued by this administration of helping … the private industry to really grow capabilities that 10 years ago were not around."
Closing quote


Wait...what? Helping the private industry to grow new capabilities?

Yeah, here's the thing—as Obama said in his written piece on CNN's website, the federal government wants to cooperate with private companies like SpaceX to continue space exploration. NASA has a lot of amazing tech, but their budget can't handle the immense expenses involved in doing extra space missions or developing new rockets like the Falcon Heavy. That's where SpaceX comes in—Elon Musk has raised huge amounts of money and captured the public imagination with his ambitious plans, and it makes practical and monetary sense to work with him rather than try to build a parallel program. It makes sense for Musk, too—cooperating with NASA gives him access to one of the most experienced space programs in the world. The whole idea of competition or animosity between NASA and SpaceX doesn't make much sense, especially since SpaceX has been working with NASA to deliver goods to the ISS.

Thomas Zurbuchen pretty much sums it up in the quote above—this isn't about prestige or profit, it's about advancing the cause of science. As long as NASA and SpaceX get the samples they need from Mars, everyone wins. With new technology called "lidar", it may be even easier than previously thought. So when the time comes to land people on Mars, it'll (hopefully) be a cause for celebration for everyone.

Let's just hope it doesn't turn out like that new movie, "Life".
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