Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society, argued dramatic advances in the private space sector could see “humans on Mars before this decade is out”. NASA plans to land astronauts on the Moon again in 2024 after which there are tentative plans for a manned mission to Mars in 2033.
Mr Zubrin argued private companies, and in particular Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are filling the void left by delays in Government run manned space programmes.
He said: “In contrast to the very successful Mars robotic programme the human programmes of the official space agencies have stagnated.
“Precisely because of the failure of the official Government led human space flight programmes a new force has moved in, and that is the entrepreneurial space companies exemplified most forcefully by SpaceX which has now proven it is possible for a relatively small well led entrepreneurial team to do things it was previously thought only the Governments of super powers could do.
“As a result you not only have the extremely impressive SpaceX capabilities developing but they have set off an entrepreneurial space race. This is the power of free enterprise let loose and I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more of this. I’m sure we’re going to see a Chinese equivalent of SpaceX and maybe in many other countries.
“I think that by 2050 there will be over 1,000 people living on Mars” (Image: GETTY/EXPRESS)
NASA’s Pathfinder Sojourner Rover on the red planet (Image: GETTY)
“This is going to cheapen the cost of space launch a lot – it already has.”
No human has walked on the Moon since the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
Mr Zubrin is author of a number of books including ‘The case for Mars’ and ‘The case for space’.
Asked who would put the first astronauts on Mars he replied: “I don’t think it’s going to be NASA – NASA has no real plan to send humans to Mars right now.
A picture of the surface of Mars (Image: GETTY)
“The thing that they’re talking about as a human Mars programme is a joke. It’s not a serious plan.
“But Elon Musk is serious about getting to Mars. I met with Musk around a month ago and I saw what he’s doing.
“We’re going to have star ships in orbit certainly before the next election which is in 2024.
“Somebody’s going to be elected President in 2024 and then he or she is going to say ‘look at that – could we use that and get people to Mars’ in my second term?’ and the answer will be ‘yes you can’. At that point I believe we will have a public/private partnership.”
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“There will be people born on Mars” (Image: GETTY)
“I don’t think it’s going to be NASA – NASA has no real plan to send humans to Mars right now” (Image: GETTY)
The UK Space Agency, a Government body, wants Britain to hold 10 percent of the global space economy by 2030.
Funding has already been provided to establish Spaceport Cornwall, which plans to launch satellites into space via Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, with proposals from two Scottish sites also being considered.
Mr Zubrin argued space exploration will also be sped up by increased involvement from the world’s militaries.
He said: “I believe that space superiority is now the decisive element in warfare, just as air superiority became decisive in World War 2.
“Imagine World War 2 but with the Axis powers having just one of the current space capabilities – reconnaissance satellites, if they had had reconnaissance satellites the U-boats would have won the battle of the Atlantic and Britain would have been starved out.
“It’s not just reconnaissance satellites of course all the communications go through satellites. The ability to coordinate and command forces, the ability to target weaponry – GPS guided munitions can be hundreds of times more accurate.
“If you could knock out all the enemy satellites then your conventional forces will win. I think we’re going to see fighter satellites, not just anti-satellites like the Russians and Chinese are currently introducing, but fighter satellites that can protect our own satellites.”
Currently the Mars Society is holding a competition to design a human settlement on the red planet that can house a million people.
“Elon Musk is serious about getting to Mars” (Image: GETTY)
The first spacecraft to land on Mars was Mariner 4, launched by NASA in 1964.
Mr Zubrin predicted human colonisation of Mars is likely within decades stating: “I think that by 2050 there will be over 1,000 people living on Mars.
“The Mars Society, our contest last year was to design a thousand person Mars settlement and this year it’s to design a million person Mars city state.
“It will be growing. There will be children there. There will be people born on Mars.”