A lady in a greenhouse on Mars. (Photo : Phil Smith/4Frontiers Corp.)
Part I - Humans On Mars: When Will We Arrive, 2021, 2023, 2040 or 2060?
Part II - Humans On Mars 2: Utilizing Mars' Natural Resources
Part III - Humans on Mars 3: Mars Race Sped Up by Private Sector but Delayed by Governments
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In part three of our series "Humans On Mars," Latinos Post will be taking a look at the growing importance of the private sector in space exploration that will be a major factor in eventually settling Mars.
After landing the Curiosity rover successfully on the Red Planet, the U.S. government space agency NASA has received a surge of attention and praise.
"You guys are examples of American know-how and ingenuity, and it's really an amazing accomplishment," President Obama congratulated NASA. "I'm going to give you guys a personal commitment to protect these critical investments in science and technology."
Oddly enough, the president seemed to have forgotten that the 2013 budget will include some cuts in NASA's funding.
Ever since the space race took off thanks to the Cold War between Russia and the United States, the space exploration as been largely left to governments. But in recent years, the private sector, with its vast financial arm and limited red tape, has been playing a more important role, and could be the driving force behind sending humans on Mars.
Obstacles to Reach Mars - Politics and Economics
Joseph Palaia, an MIT graduate and Vice President of 4Frontiers Corporation, a company "focused on the settlement of Mars," recently spoke to Latinos Post about the eventuality of having human settlements on Mars.
When asked about what the biggest hurdles to settling Mars are, he replied, "Economics and politics. There are certainly a lot of challenging engineering projects which need to be undertaken, but by far the most challenging aspects of getting humans to Mars will be political and economic in nature."
This is where private companies are stepping in. Without the bureaucracy that can bog down any government initiative, the private industry can green light space exploration programs and fund them with the deep pockets of billionaires such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk.
Private Sector Stepping Up Game for Mars Race
4Frontiers Corporation is hoping on spreading awareness of a Mars settlement program (along with their research and development arm) by opening up a Mars-themed amusement park called INTERSPACE. Another program, Mars One hopes to send the first human settlement on Mars by 2023, and is even trying to put together a reality show together for additional funding and publicity.
The recent launch of the Dragon capsule by private company SpaceX to the International Space Station is one of the most stark developments in the space race. The Dragon capsule carried supplies to the International Space Station, and was a demonstration of SpaceX's ability to take over ferrying NASA astronauts into space. NASA's space shuttle program recently ended, and has to pay Russia fees of more than $60 million per astronaut for a round trip to the space station.
Elon Musk, SpaceX's creator and former co-founder of PayPal, hopes that a government contract is the next step forward. It would be the first such agreement between a private company and NASA. With space travel back on U.S. soil, through a U.S. company, government geopolitical interests, the public's imagination, and the profit-motive for the private sector can all meet and further research and funding into a Mars settlement program.
Man's Mars Settling Plans Can Hold - Governments
This doesn't mean that the U.S. government, or any other government, will be wiping their hands clean of any kind of foray into getting humans to Mars. President Obama has stated that he expects the United States to put humans on Mars by the 2030's. The European Space Agency also expects to accomplish the task of getting humans to Mars around the same time. An isolation experiment dubbed 'Mars-500' in Russia locked crews in for 520 days to study the effects of the prolonged isolation a trip to Mars will bring.
Then there's other such private-led initiatives such as the burgeoning space tourism industry and the long-term, wide-eyed goal of mining and harvesting the vast amounts of natural resources on asteroids and other extraterrestrial bodies. It is becoming increasingly clear that while countries will still be planting flags on other heavenly bodies, the technologies that will advance the human footprint into space will most likely come with heavy support from the private industry.
Palaia's mindset echoes what many in the private space industry feel:
"I believe that the venture will be largely privately backed, with some government involvement. It would be great if multiple governments got together to pursue development of technologies and systems needed for Mars settlement... but I think it is naive to think that will happen. We've been waiting decades for governments to do this... It's time to stop waiting and to take action ourselves."
>> Mars One
View a video of the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that carried the SpaceX Dragon capsule into space: