In April, SpaceX announced its agreement with NASA for a mission to Mars. This was the perfect piece of news to precede one of the most notable topics at this year’s Humans to Mars Summit: public-private partnerships.
As highlighted at the Humans to Mars Summit by Richard French, staff technologist at the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate, we have to get rid of the “us versus them” mentality. Public and private space players are in the same game with the same goals.
SpaceX plans to send a robotic Dragon capsule to Mars as soon as 2018. The Red Dragon mission will test technologies for Elon Musk’s long-term goal to colonize the Red Planet. NASA will provide technical support for the Red Dragon Mars landing, and SpaceX will provide valuable data for NASA’s own Journey to Mars program.
The Red Dragon mission is no small feat, but not unattainable. SpaceX will lead the first privately led mission to Mars, opening the doors for other growing space companies to do the same. The Space Frontier Foundation’s Policy Director Aaron Oesterle knows the important implications of partnerships to Mars:
“The Red Dragon mission joins the various private lunar missions to suggest one clear thing – the idea that the commercial industry cannot play in the beyond earth orbit world is false. The United States will be able to expand its ability to do great things in space if it partners with private industry.”
Public and private space players know that you can’t halt progress, and they will continue to partner to embrace progress in space exploration. While a potential economy beyond low Earth orbit remains doubtful in the minds of many space “practicalists,” it is not stopping private players from extending their ambitions. In early April, Bigelow Aerospace became the first company to attach a module to the International Space Station. In the coming decades, Bigelow hopes to put habitation modules on the Moon to provide NASA astronauts valuable living space for research. Astrobotic and Moon Express are competing now in the Google Lunar XPRIZE to place a privately funded lander on the Moon. Astrobotic plans to send payloads to the Moon on behalf of governments and academic institutions. The Pittsburgh-based startup is working with NASA under the Lunar CATALYST program to strengthen cargo transportation capabilities. Moon Express has plans to mine the Moon for a number of rare elements and has used NASA partnerships to develop lunar landing systems.
We know that public-private partnerships work. By partnering with the commercial space industry, NASA is well on its way to restoring the United States’ ability to send humans to orbit with commercial Cargo program. Now they are on their way to meeting even more ambitious deep-space goals. Public-private partnerships are about doing the best work for the lowest cost. They are about developing new technologies, scientific discovery and advancing space exploration. According to Alex MacDonald, NASA’s senior economic advisor, “There is no way that as a people we get into space through government programs alone.” Industry and governments provide complimentary services that continually expand our overall capabilities in space.
Register for the 2016 NewSpace Conference to hear government and industry panelists expand on the Humans to Mars Summit. Learn about the future of NASA and its partners from the insiders.