Nothing brings out delusions of human grandeur like the idea of space travel and moving to new worlds. And while various private enterprises may want to make it to Mars, there’s one universal constant: it’s not happening without NASA’s help.
Free market fundamentalists love to pretend that Free Enterprise™ is everything you need. It solves all problems. Companies like SpaceX will get us to Mars and open up the entire solar system to human exploration before 2040, when the Singularity is supposed to merge humanity with our Seed AI overlords.
Reality, however, has a bucket of cold water to pour over those notions. Traveling to Mars is a hugely expensive process — most people don’t realize it costs millions of dollars just to put a satellite in orbit. No company will invest that much in something that’s not going to have an immediate return.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden knows that. Which is why Thursday, while speaking before the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, he bluntly told the idiot lawmakers who suggested NASA might be entering into a new space race with SpaceX that nobody was getting to Mars without NASA’s help.
And it’s true; SpaceX is buoyed by a multi-million dollar contract with NASA.
Bolden told the lawmakers that, “Our ultimate focus is the journey to Mars and everything comes back to that.”
This is now especially true given that the Mars One hype bubble has unzipped, and it’s become clear that Mars One is likely a scam. Not only did one MIT team of researchers find life-threatening flaws in their mission design, but the company has some questionable approaches to funding as well.
Bolden found the idea of SpaceX getting boots on Mars first to be preposterous, and maintained that all the NASA initiatives are “testing-grounds” for various technologies that will build up towards getting a colony on the planet Schiaparelli’s canals built.
Bolden said, “Mars is the planet that is most like earth. And it will sustain life when humans [NASA-trained astronauts] get there in the 2030s.”
He’s right; it’s not happening without NASA’s help, or the help of some other major governmental space agency. How soon is anyone’s guess; I would be shocked if there were humans on Mars before 2100. The private market can’t do much, but the one thing it does do well — screw up the government — ensures we’ll be stuck here for a long time to come.