Elon Musk has become the face of the future today. In this column on July 9, 2015, I wrote: “Musk is more ambitious. Steve Jobs was to computing as Musk is to space travel. Call him crazy, but he aims to form a human colony in Mars by 2040 with a population of 80,000.”
It is 2021. Musk remains focused on his “out of this world” dream. He is even more optimistic, declaring that his company (SpaceX) will land humans on Mars in 2026. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the new space race. In the ‘60s, it was between the US and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Today, it is the US, China and the rest of the world.
The US was first to explore the Red Planet nearly 50 years ago (Nov. 14, 1971) with Mariner 9, the first space probe to orbit another planet. Others followed suit namely: USSR, the European Space Agency and India.
In February 2021, three space ships are invading Mars, namely China’s Tianwen-1, United Arab Emirates’ Hope and Perseverance of the US. The Chinese orbiter will survey the planet using a radar instrument and later land a rover in May. UAE’s mission will study the atmosphere of Mars. The Nasa explorer has scientific instruments to study the geology and climate of Mars, with the aim of laying “the foundation for future human exploration of Mars.”
That later phrase jives with Musk’s objective. While Musk has nothing to do with Perseverance, his SpaceX has obtained $135 million from Nasa for his Starship spacecraft that will be used to bring astronauts to the moon and he hopes that one day will fly people to Mars.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are more grounded and entrepreneurial in their goals: charging tourists to a trip to the edge of space and back. So far, their tests have gone through setbacks, that their original timetables have been changed repeatedly. But for sure, their efforts will bear fruits, in the names of science and business.
As the world continues to fight its war against the Covid-19 pandemic, the 21st century space race provides hope for humanity. We know we can defeat the virus. We know we will survive. So long as we reach for the stars while keeping our feet on the ground. Yes. We can all be dreamers like Elon Musk.