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Who wants to go to Mars?

I imagine that sounds like a pretty good option to a lot of people right about now.

Wealthy business leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are creating buzz around and making progress toward the exploration of deep space, experts said Wednesday during SpaceCom in downtown Houston.

“I think we’re entering an era of philanthropic private funding of grand visions in space that start with our own solar system and eventually lead to humanity going to the stars,” said Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and former director of NASA Ames Research Center.

Worden and other panelists discussed going to Mars and beyond during their presentations at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Such exploration, Worden said, will require public-private partnerships between international businesses and governments.

His enthusiasm lies with exploring the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. To do this, Worden discussed the Breakthrough Starshot project. This involves small, ultra-light nanocraft – miniature space probes attached to lightweight sails – that will be pushed up to 100 million mph by a ground-based light beamer, according to the project’s website.

“I’m hoping sometime here later this century, maybe in 2076, hopefully sooner, we will fly by the nearest star,” Worden said.

Other panelists focused on human space flight to Mars. NASA wants to get people to Mars in the 2030s.

“Why send humans to Mars? It is the closest habitable planet,” said Brian Duffy, vice president and program manager at Orbital ATK. “And if the human race is ever going to be anywhere else in the universe, then Mars makes the most sense.”

2076 is a little out of my reach, and I’d be too old in the 2030s for it to be practical. But even if I’ll never get to do it I support space travel, and often I think it will be necessary for the future viability of the civilization we have now. I just hope we can get the engineering problems solved in time. If you’re sorry you missed out on SpaceCom, don’t worry – it will be back next year, in December.

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