Early Tuesday morning, President Obama announced that the United States will work with commercial firms to send humans to Mars by 2030. According to NASA, the plan entails partnering with private companies to create deep space habitats capable of supporting human life, as well as building privately-owned low earth orbit space stations to help get us there.
“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time,” Obama wrote in an op-ed on CNN. “Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.”
To send the supplies and labor needed to make these low earth orbit space stations into space, commercial firms will use International Space Station (ISS) modules. Presumably, companies will use the opportunity to create a whole host of successors to the ISS, allowing humanity to proliferate throughout the Milky Way.
“We are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space,” Obama wrote. “These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we’ll need for the long journey to Mars.”
It’s hoped that these public investments (and the profitable possibility of asteroid mining) will spur further private investment in space travel and exploration — the kind that SpaceX founder Elon Musk has already gotten started.
Indeed, Musk announced less than two weeks ago that he plans to launch a manned mission to Mars in 2022, three years sooner than his prior estimate. According to Musk, humanity faces two fundamental choices: “One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event. The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”
With the U.S. now invested in sending people to Mars as well, “humans as a multi-planetary species” may no longer be a pipe dream.
Next, see what evidence the Curiosity rover has uncovered of Mars’ earth-like past.