NASA wants to go to Mars. SpaceX wants to go to Mars. Michio Kaku wants humanity to go to Mars so we can avoid extinction. The rest of us just want to see our species actually set foot on Mars. But first, the moon.
Think of the moon as a launchpad for the Red Planet. As LiveScience found out, Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner is going to take advantage of our satellite as a blast-off point for the next frontier. Starliner (the name is about as sci-fi as you can get) is what happens when Boeing, which probably makes everyone think airplanes not spaceships, joins forces with NASA to develop a reusable space capsule that will be able to fly up to seven astronauts to the ISS. It will also be the world’s first commercial space vehicle.
Starliner is even autonomous. Meaning crews will spend less time on training and take off sooner. It only needs one astronaut to fly it, or more like assist it in flight, using tablets and touch screens.
This wonder capsule will soon be sending the ISS experiments meant to improve long-term stays beyond Earth’s atmosphere, including 3D-printing tests for tools and equipment parts and methods of growing vegetables from our planet on another planet. After it’s successfully proven it can shuttle payloads back and forth to the ISS, Starliner’s next destination will be the moon—once the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway (LOPG) actually becomes a reality—before launching research missions and (eventually) nascent colonies to Mars.
"We want to take what we've learned from the ISS and apply it to living near the moon," said Boeing LOPG systems engineer David Pedersen at the recent FutureCon panel "Intergalactic to Planetary: Science Fiction to Science Fact."
The Gateway itself, about a five-day flight from Earth, will be a floating lab for scientists to test ways to protect future Marsgoers from the intense radiation that hits the Red Planet. It will also be a trial zone for space living that will help former Earthlings-turned-Martians become “Earth-independent.” You can’t exactly forget something and go back when you’re almost 40 million miles away.
When we’re sure enough that our species could actually survive in a place with freezing temperatures and the very last vestiges of an atmosphere that has been obliterated by the sun, Starliner will eventually act as a ferry to launches that sends some really brave scientists and colonists to Mars. Bonus: It will also be a one-stop fueling station.
Before fiction turns into science, Starliner will take off aboard the Atlas V rocket on an uncrewed test flight this August. If only flying on a Boeing 787 were that cool.