It look like SpaceX will have a bit of competition when it comes to colonizing Mars.
Elon Musk made headlines when he announced late last month his plans to send people to Mars within the next 50 to 100 years. However, Boeing has now thrown its hat into the ring, saying that it will be the first to send people to the red planet.
Speaking at the "What's Next" conference in Chicago this week, when Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was asked about the future of his company, he focused on breakthroughs in space travel, explicitly stating that his company will be the first to bring people to Mars.
“I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” said Muilenburg.
That's quite the bold claim: compared to SpaceX, which owes its very existence to Elon Musk's aspirations to send people to Mars, Boeing is mostly known as an airplane manufacturer. So with that in mind, just how reasonable was Muilenburg when he made that proclamation?
Boeing has actually been involved in the space business for decades and has been one of NASA's primary contractors since the space agency's inception. In fact, the company built the first stage of the Saturn V rocket and has contributed to the Space Shuttle program, as well as the International Space Station (Boeing was the first contractor of the ISS program). Adding on to that résumé, Boeing is in the middle of designing and developing the Space Launch System, the rocket that NASA wants to use to send people to Mars in the mid-2030s.
Boeing's involvement with NASA doesn't just give it a hefty amount of experience - giving its claim added legitimacy - it also means that it has deep financial reserves to see its goal reach fruition, as Boeing is receiving billions in funding from NASA to develop the SLS.
By comparison, SpaceX doesn't have the same level of experience or resources.
To start, SpaceX was founded in 2002 and its first major achievement came in 2008 when it sent the Falcon 1 into orbit. Similarly, a majority of its efforts to send people to Mars are almost entirely self-funded and the company is currently only devoting 5 percent of its resources to building its Mars rockets and spaceships. SpaceX has other priorities, such as determining what caused the Falcon 9 explosion on Sept. 1.
Interestingly enough, the most notable difference between these two might be the timelines for reaching Mars. As stated before, SpaceX is planning to go to Mars by 2024, while NASA (and Boeing) is eyeing sometime in the mid-2030s. Does Mulienburg's statement mean that he doesn't place much stock in Musk's estimates?
If the answer is yes, then he wouldn't necessarily be wrong in thinking that way. SpaceX is somewhat notorious for missing its deadlines (or at the very least being overly optimistic about them). Remember in 2011, when Musk claimed that his company would send people to space within the next three years? Well, that likely won't happen until 2018. Similarly, remember when the company promised to launch its Falcon Heavy by 2013 or 2014? It's 2016 now and we're still waiting for that.
At this point, it's still too early to tell who will be the first to reach Mars, and we'll undoubtedly have to wait a decade or so before a we can even fathom who the winner might be.