SpaceX vs. NASA: Can Elon Musk Land First Humans on Mars?

hat was once science fiction is fast becoming science fact regarding Mars.

Throughout human history the red planet has entranced people worldwide. Mars has become embedded in popular culture through movies, TV and space novels. Mars has indeed captured the imagination of astronomers, star gazers and the general public alike.

However, today’s space technology and innovation are revolutionizing the dream of launching a manned mission to Mars.

The big question: who will land humans on Mars first?

America appears destined to make history on a macro level by planting the U.S. flag on the red planet. But the question arises on a micro level whether NASA will beat a commercial space company in putting astronauts on the Martian soil?

The answer remains elusive.

In fact, NASA’s preeminence for a manned Mars mission is in doubt due to growing competition from private sector trailblazers such as Elon Musk of SpaceX, Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin.

These are just a few of the present-day pioneers who aim to commercialize space travel through their entrepreneurial fortitude.

Musk has already announced big plans to make history on Mars by establishing a permanent human presence prior to NASA’s launch window. However, this assumes that Musk’s projections are correct and SpaceX is a success. But as any astronaut will admit, “Space is hard” — to put it mildly.

Musk’s pronouncements are not assured in the new commercial space race, where the entire galaxy is the ultimate limit for human/robot colonization in the future.

Elon Musk’s Mars Message…

“I think, if things go according to plan, we should be able to launch people probably in 2024, with arrival in 2025,” Musk recently said of his manned mission to Mars, according to the publication Space Flight Now.

This would be a generational milestone for Musk and SpaceX, leaving NASA to lead from behind. Musk also said the following about the SpaceX mission to Mars:

“It’s about being a multi-planet species and have life extend beyond the solar system…” — Elon Musk

Musk says, “The basic game plan is we’re going to send a mission to Mars with every opportunity…They occur approximately every 26 months…We’re establishing cargo flights to Mars that people can count on…That’s what’s necessary to create a self-sustaining, or a growing, city on Mars.”

NASA Needs Lift Off

Therefore, if NASA aspires to win the new 21st century space race to put astronauts on Mars then Congress and the President must heed the words of John F. Kennedy (JFK), who said during his famous “Moon Speech” in 1962:

“It’s time to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear.” — President John F. Kennedy

NASA is in need of a big budget boost for deep space exploration and discovery to benefit all mankind, which includes fast-tracking the manned Mars mission tentatively scheduled for the 2030s.

Currently, NASA’s Curiosity Rover (pictured below) is surveying the Martian landscape for any semblance of microbial life.

NASA has already learned that Mars contains signature signs of dry riverbeds where water likely once flowed in the distant past. Mars also has large polar ice caps which scientists say can theoretically be terraformed to ultimately create an Earth-like atmosphere for future generations of space travelers.

Final Thoughts

Despite the new private sector competition, let’s recall that NASA is still a crown jewel of public sector innovation and a global role model for groundbreaking scientific research and technology.

Therefore, NASA arguably has the most experience to beat Musk to landing humans on Mars. However, the space agency’s funding for this major mission likely needs a big boost in the wake of Musk’s announcement.

But if NASA’s budget isn’t supersized soon, then how can the space agency maximize its full potential?

On the other hand, Elon Musk could make history on Mars. This might relegate NASA to the dustbin of history, at least in terms of global public perception.

And that could be a “mission fail” for the esteemed American space agency.


Strategic comms consultant for social justice, DEI, CSR | prior career spokesman at U.S. EEOC, WH political appointee for Bill Clinton | DC-based, NY-bred

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