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article imageBoeing challenge — 'We are going to beat SpaceX to Mars'

By Karen Graham     Dec 8, 2017 in Technology
In an interview on CNBC Thursday morning, hosted by Jim Cramer, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg threw down the gauntlet, so to speak - Making the bold claim that Boeing will beat SpaceX to Mars.
CNBC's Jim Cramer asked Muilenburg whether he or Musk would “get a man on Mars first.” Muilenburg responded, “Eventually we’re going to go to Mars and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket."
Mullenburg gave a brief outline of the Boeing mission: “We’re working on that next generation rocket right now with our NASA customers called ‘Space Launch System,'” Muilenburg said. “This is a rocket that’s about 36 stories tall, we’re in the final assembly right now, down near New Orleans. And we’re going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we’re going to do a slingshot mission around the moon.”
Elon Musk
This is not the first time Boeing has challenged SpaceX over who's rocket will get to Mars first. At a tech conference last year in Chicago, Mullenburg echoed a nearly identical sentiment. SpaceX's Elon Musk had a two-word reply to Mullenburg - taking to Twitter to respond: "Do it."
The real truth behind NASA's Space Launch System
Actually, the Space Launch System (SLS), while "right on track," according to NASA, won't be going on its first mission until probably sometime in 2020. The uncrewed mission, known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is a critical flight test for the agency’s human deep space exploration goals.
NASA Completes Welding on Massive Fuel Tank for First Flight of SLS Rocket.
NASA Completes Welding on Massive Fuel Tank for First Flight of SLS Rocket.
“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date.”
The SLS is being built on proven hardware from the space shuttle and other exploration programs while making use of cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology in order to reduce development time and cost. For Boeing's part, they are the prime contractor for the design, development, test, and production of the launch vehicle cryogenic stages, as well as development of the avionics suite.
The Four RS-25 Engines that will Power SLS.
The Four RS-25 Engines that will Power SLS.
The prime contractor for two shuttle-derived solid rocket boosters is Orbital ATK, headquartered in Dulles, Virginia, while the RS-25 engines are being supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California. In other words, the SLS project is the work of a number of contractors with almost total funding coming from NASA.
Added to this is the fact that NASA has already paid over $10 billion just for the development of the SLS, with $2.8 billion going to Boeing, and no real funding has been allocated for an actual human-to-Mars exploration program. SpaceX will need some funding from NASA eventually to complete development of its big Falcon rocket.
The giant barge that will be used to transport the fuel tank prototype to Marshall is located at NAS...
The giant barge that will be used to transport the fuel tank prototype to Marshall is located at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
However, Musk has already laid out plans for commercial applications for his launch system. To date, the SLS has no known customers other than NASA, according to Ars Technica.
The real challenge for Boeing and SpaceX
During a speech in July at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Vice President Mike Pence delighted hundreds of space agency employees and contractors by pledging that "under President Trump, we will achieve more in space than we ever thought possible."
Pence also promised a"return to the Moon," as well as "American boots on the face of Mars" and a "constant presence in low-Earth orbit." And while the promises sounded wonderful to many, the reality is a lot different. One of the biggest clouds hanging over NASA is the proposed budget cuts to the agency.
Animation of the launch of the Falcon Heavy Rocket.
Animation of the launch of the Falcon Heavy Rocket.
The proposal cuts also will nix plans to drag a small asteroid into orbit around the Moon, where astronauts could study it at length. It also erased several Earth science missions and axed a NASA education office -- but it laid out no new visions.
Boeing, SpaceX and other commercial companies really don't need to be worrying about who will reach Mars first because that is the least of their problems. Both companies have seen changes in their schedules for first crewed-flights and while launch dates are set for 2018, further delays, due to development problems and changing requirements from NASA, could complicate things even further.
More about Boeing, Spacex, Mars Mission, space launch system, NASA
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