SpaceX’s announcement to send two humans to the moon by the end of 2018 has come about as a surprise to most. The company which had originally been established with the purpose of establishing a permanent base for humans on Mars is now also aiming to go to the moon. What might have caused this sudden change? Is the company responding to its competitors?
Well, as it turns out, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin does have similar ambitious plans as that of SpaceX. With the gradual development of their ambitious launch vehicles like New Shephard, New Glenn and now New Armstrong (though still in drawing board), Blue Origin is fast catching up with SpaceX. New Shephard, designed to make suborbital flight, is named after the late astronaut Allan Shephard who became the first American to make the suborbital flight. Similarly, New Glenn, designed to make orbital flight, is named after John Glenn who became the first American to make the orbital flight. With their third launch vehicle being named New Armstrong one can easily see where this is going.
Add to this NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot’s recent request to associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Bill Gerstenmaier to initiate a study to assess the feasibility of adding a crew to exploration Mission-1. There is definitely a new moon race going on and this announcement by SpaceX is probably in response to this threat that they sense. The mission is supposed to be accomplished by the end of 2018 which is not a very long time period from now. However, is the technology good enough?
The company has plans to send their Dragon V2 capsule to international space station by the middle of 2018. Hopefully, this mission is successful otherwise the moon mission may be delayed as is so common in the space launches. Musk has stated that the mission will take a little more than one week which suggests that this will be a swing around the moon and return to Earth with no time to spend in the orbit. Moreover, unlike the Orion Space Capsule, the Dragon V2 does not have service module which further limits their extended stay around the moon orbit.
Analogous to the space race between USA and USSR in the 60s and 70s its going to be exciting how the current moon race between the private corporations is going to unfold in the coming years. Let’s hope this race continues further after Moon to Mars and other parts of the solar system.