It was about a year ago, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg began to say that his company would beat SpaceX to Mars. "I am convinced that the first person to step on Mars will arrive there on a Boeing rocket," he said during a technology summit sponsored by Boeing in Chicago in October 2016.
On Thursday, Muilenburg repeated that claim about CNBC. In addition, he added this little gossip about the Space Launch System rocket, of which Boeing is the main contractor of the nuclear phase. "We're going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we're going to do a slingshot mission around the Moon."
Unlike last year, Muilenburg got a response from SpaceX this time. The founder of the company, Elon Musk, offered a concise answer on Twitter : "Do it".
The truth is that the Boeing rocket does not go anywhere particularly fast. Although Muilenburg says it will be launched in 2019, NASA has almost admitted that it will not happen. The first launch of the rocket has already decreased since the end of 2017 until "not before" December 2019. However, NASA officials have said that a launch in 2019 is a "better case", and is more likely a landslide until June 2020.
Et tu, commercial crew?
Boeing is also not going to land a rocket on Mars without the full funding of NASA, which has already paid more than $ 10 billion for the development of the SLS and has no real funds to implement a human-Mars exploration plan SpaceX will also need some government funding if it wants to develop its "Big Falcon Rocket" to reach Mars, but Musk has established plans for commercial applications of its launch system that could offset part of its cost. (The SLS rocket has no known clients other than NASA).
What puzzles us in particular is why Boeing and SpaceX are discussing Mars. These two companies, which compete directly with NASA and other contracts with the government, are in a much more immediate and real race to reach the launch pad in the commercial crew competition. NASA has had to rely on Russia to take its astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle retired in 2011. Both Boeing and SpaceX are building capsules that will launch crews from Florida.
Companies have seen slips in their calendars for the first manned flights. Now they have launch dates set for 2018, but there is a general expectation that there are likely to be further delays, both due to development problems and changing requirements of NASA. In any case, the company that ultimately breaks Russia's dependence on NASA will win an unparalleled public relations benefit for an aerospace company.
"Do it," we say to Dennis and Elon.