It’s exciting news that SpaceX, the private company that just sent a highly successful spaceship to dock with the International Space Station, wants to put a human on Mars in a dozen years.

The target is 10 to 15 years from now, said Elon Musk, the CEO, but 12 years sounds realistic.

It has been years since NASA had a credible goal of going anywhere beyond low Earth orbit. (The station is just 250 miles from our planet.) The shuttles are grounded and there’s no replacement vessel, nor even a firm plan to build one.

The White House and Congress are lukewarm to commitments for funding a new spaceship, and NASA now must pay the Russians $50 million for each astronaut’s ride to space. Astronauts also have to learn Russian (just as cosmonauts must learn English. The space station is bilingual.)

It is now 41 years since a human last stood on the moon, and anyone who is serious about exploring space has to think big. That’s what took Apollo missions to the moon, and what inspired Yuri Gagarin before that.

SpaceX is an echo of the excitement of those days, when getting to the moon by a deadline was a priority. More to the point, it has the backing of an impressive list of NASA insiders, past and present.

Canada’s own Chris Hadfield, who will command the space station, recently commented that “Dragon is really proving SpaceX’s capability,” after the unmanned cargo ship’s successful mission.

Hadfield also told an interviewer recently that the space station’s role is partly to test technology for traveling deeper into space. While NASA won’t have a new rocket for at least a decade, it’s refreshing to see a private company offering to carry some of the burden.

— Ottawa Citizen

Nov. 23

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