Science 4 min read

Boeing Helped win Space Race 1.0, Will it win 2.0?

Titima Ongkantong |

Titima Ongkantong |

Having recently signed a joint contract with NASA, Boeing and Space X seem to be in close cooperation for now, but the race to colonize Mars has them competing. 

Will Elon Musk’s highly publicized plans for SpaceX come out ahead? Or, will Boeing bank on decades of experience to get to Mars first?

SpaceX and Boeing have signed a contract with NASA to share the responsibility of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station (“ISS”).

After decades of dependency on Russia to shuttle NASA astronauts to the ISS, the recent contract among SpaceX, Boeing, and NASA not only highlights NASA investing in American ingenuity, but also NASA’s investment in private American ingenuity.

Competition is hailed as the greatest driver of ingenuity, and while the NASA contract seems to promote cooperation most immediately, the joint agreement also reflects the competition between the two private couriers. In fact, NASA has not yet announced which of the two will conduct the first private shuttle mission set for late 2017 or early 2018- a fact that shows the veteran space administration may still be out on the decision itself.

SpaceX has started putting some fire under Boeing’s boosters in announcing that the SpaceX transport vehicle will be ready before Boeing’s, and will be ready to realize its first manned test flight in March 2017.

From Moonwalk to Marswalk?

Almost certainly in response to Elon Musk’s highly publicized plan to colonize Mars which he outlined in detail last month at the International Astronautical Conference, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg confirmed the company’s intention to focus on interplanetary travel. According to Bloomberg, Muilenburg is convinced that “the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket.”

“Although a private company, Boeing’s ambitious space plans are partially contingent on federal funding, which could prove to be an impediment in the future like it is for NASA now.”

Boeing already has extensive experience in aerospace to their advantage. The company has always had a close relationship with NASA, and it was Boeing’s Saturn V rocket that a got US astronauts to Moon before the Soviets. NASA and Boeing continue their historic partnership in the development of the SLS, “Space Launch System,” that would be the most powerful rocket ever built and would serve in deep space explorations.

Who’s Paying for This?

This historic partnership between NASA and Boeing continues via the recently shared contract with fellow private space courier SpaceX, but is Boeing’s role completely private?

While SpaceX is completely self-funded, Boeing receives federal funding through other contracts with NASA.  

Due to budget cuts over the last few years, NASA has seen a reduction in its funding bandwidth for projects and missions, which is part of the reason that it has chosen to outsource shuttle operations to private companies like Space X and Boeing. Although a private company, Boeing’s ambitious space plans are partially contingent on federal funding, which could prove to be an impediment in the future like it is for NASA now.

Despite the hype around a next-gen Space Race between SpaceX and Boeing and both present ambitious timelines for landing on Mars, both projects are still heavily experimental. SpaceX is said to have allocated just 5% of its financial resources to the Mars Colonization Project, and Muilenburg has expressed concerns that Boeing’s investment in experimental vessels was not yet profitable and hopes to drastically reduce the costs before considering their commercial use.

What About Blue Origin?

Left out of the NASA contract club, but in no way absent from race to make humanity an interdisciplinary species is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his commercial space flight company, Blue Origin.

Bezos has already expressed an ambitious plan to take tourists to Space by 2018. But, can Blue Origin compete with Boeing’s historical relationship with NASA and SpaceX’s media hype?

Go ahead, check out our article “Who Will Win the New Space Race: SpaceX or Blue Origin?” and vote!


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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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