Almost fifty years after the United States won the first space race by landing on the moon, a new space race has begun in earnest. Over the last few years, the United States has launched a new space race by encouraging the private sector to design and innovate the next generation of rockets and space-faring technology. Where the moon landing was handled by government-run Apollo rockets and the subsequent Space Shuttle program was entirely led by NASA, the new generation of space travel will work with both the public and private sectors to ferry astronauts into space.
Mars is considered to be one possible destination for a new space race. The United States is currently developing a NASA-constructed rocket – the Orion – which will have the capability to eventually fly to Mars. Several private companies are working to travel to Mars as well. SpaceX, the consortium led by Tesla’s Elon Musk, has worked to develop its Falcon Heavy rocket that will be able to deliver large payloads into deep space. If successfully completed, the Falcon Heavy will become the world’s most powerful rocket, with the ability to carry very large loads to space stations and to ferry astronauts into deep space. Several other companies, including Arianespace, Progress, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are in on the race as well. They are working to develop their own rockets to efficiently move people and cargo into space.
Other countries are also working to develop more advanced rockets that will be able to move deeper into space. China and India have been at the forefront of these efforts, with China’s Shenzhou 5 being the most recent spacecraft to launch. China is also working to replace its Tiangong-1 space station with the larger, more advanced Tiangong-2 space station which will further its ability to move into space.
The race is back on. In 2016, President Obama vowed to go to Mars by the 2030s. After several decades of slower progress in space technology, private companies, and public governments are back in the business of developing advanced rockets capable of taking us to Mars and beyond. The next several decades will almost certainly see humanity go to Mars for the first time and private sector space travel will continue to grow and develop as a business.