A new private space race as Boeing CEO says he’ll beat SpaceX to Mars

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Competition breeds progress, so it’s a bit thrilling to hear Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg say that he’s going to beat SpaceX to Mars in terms of delivering real humans to the surface of the red planet.

Muilenburg said that he’s “convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” speaking at a conference in Chicago Tuesday, according to Bloomberg. Boeing is working on a heavy-lift rocket project called the Space Launch System that would aim for a similar goal to what SpaceX is hoping to achieve with its Interplanetary Transport System, the details of which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared last week in a keynote presented at an international aeronautics convention.

Boeing and SpaceX are already close competitors when it comes to commercial spaceflight contracts from NASA, and Boeing’s approach to its system designed for reaching Mars reflects similar tensions to those present in the ongoing battle between the two for space missions closer to home. Boeing’s plan involves at least $60 billion in NASA-funded development prior to a human-crewed Mars mission in the late 2030s, at the earliest.

Musk’s approach with SpaceX will seek to reduce costs to more manageable levels of around $200,000 per person by the time proper colonization begins, sourced from a variety of places, including potential public and private funding (including from Musk himself).

Provided this isn’t just boastful public remarks and Boeing really does hear SpaceX’s footsteps, hopefully this will set in motion competition that pushes forward both endeavors, which should help make Mars a more realistic destination in the end.