The final frontier is one that hasn't seen much exploration in the last few decades. Granted, the problems here on Earth have been pretty time-consuming lately, but what better way to get focus and perspective than by venturing out farther into the known universe? That's exactly what President Obama is trying to do with his last few months in office. Obama plans to put humans on Mars by the 2030s, and private corporations are going to play a huge role in achieving that mission.
"We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time," the president said in an essay he wrote for CNN outlining his vision for the future of American space travel, and potentially life in space. "Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we're already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station."
The lofty ambitions are a wonderful ending note to Obama's presidency, as well as a hint towards the sustainable future of space travel, which is likely to feature private companies at the center.
The use of private corporations in space travel isn't totally new — Elon Musk's SpaceX company has been working to perfect private space travel since the billionaire inventor founded the company in 2002. In fact, SpaceX is most likely the company that President Obama references in the op-ed. SpaceX won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to send private astronauts to the International Space Station, the largest contract NASA's ever given out to a private company. The terms of the contract specify that SpaceX has to complete a test flight by the end of 2017, so the next step forward in space travel is coming up in just over a year at most.
President Obama's goal to reach Mars by the 2030s isn't new, either. Back in 2010, NASA announced a plan to put humans on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars by 2030. The plan was approved by both the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and the U.S. National Space Policy that year, but it lost a little bit of traction with the public in the intervening years. Although the box office numbers for Star Trek and Star Wars might indicate otherwise, space isn't exactly the number-one issue most Americans care about, and the public pressure to stay on top of the goal faded. However, with his re-commitment to the plan, which presumably will last after his time in office comes to an end, President Obama is asking the country to make this a top priority.
In his final months in office, Obama is letting the country and the world know that he's hasn't checked out yet. Everyone knew from the very beginning of his presidential candidacy back in 2007 that he'd be a tireless force, and nothing has changed over the last decade. He's still got a long career ahead of him promoting whatever causes he wants, and thankfully he's chosen something that will benefit not just the United States, but also the entire international scientific community.
Interplanetary space travel isn't a distant dream anymore, and with President Obama spearheading the mission, humanity could reach new heights very soon. The extension of his personal legacy, which has already included some of the greatest conversation efforts and peaceful victories of any American president, will secure his place in history.