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Who Will Get to Mars First: Elon Musk or Mars One?

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Who Will Get to Mars First: Elon Musk or Mars One?
A modern era space race is in progress and the prize is Mars. Sending people to the Red Planet is not enough to win; the winners must establish a city there. The two main horses in that race are Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the not-for-profit organization MarsOne.

Each of these have their own timelines and methods of approach with the same goal in mind: a colony of human Martians. The big question is who will get there first? And once they get there, who will be able to not only establish a city first, but who will be able to establish a long term self-sustaining settlement?

It is no secret that Musk has a dream of sending people to Mars. This past July (2014), Musk told Stephen Colbert, “We are aspiring to send people to Mars.” (1) In that same interview Musk eluded to the idea of interplanetary colonies when he stated that his main reason for sending people to Mars was to hedge our bets on the survival of the human species.

“A multi-planet species, humanity as we know it is likely to propagate into the future much further than if we are a single-planet species.” (1) However, during that interview he never explicitly stated that SpaceX would be the company leading the charge on Martian Colonization.

On September 8, 2014, Musk put all of the wondering to bed when he publicly stated that the long term goal of SpaceX was to build a human city on Mars. “The reason I haven’t taken SpaceX public is the goals of SpaceX are very long-term, which is to establish a city on Mars.” (2)

He views Mars as a do-it-yourself project that will require plenty of manpower and a tremendous amount of supplies to be shipped to the planet. Musk theorizes that people will be visiting the planet on a regular basis in as little as a decade.

From then on, people and cargo can be left on Mars and resupplied during visits. The main goal of the first settlers on Mars would be to begin terraforming the planet to make it more hospitable. This timeline does make it a long term goal, but it seems that Musk will have some competition looking to expedite colonization process: MarsOne.


Where Elon Musk is keeping his plans to colonize the Red Planet rather close to the chest, MarsOne states it outright:

“Mars One will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Crews of four will depart every two years, starting in 2024. Our first unmanned mission will be launched in 2018.” (3)

The MarsOne mission has laid out a fairly concise road map (4) that outlines the project from its inception in 2011 to launch of a secondary crew in 2026. MarsOne plans on training the first crew next year and plans to have an established Martian outpost in as little as nine years.

Even though the MarsOne mission is taking an aggressive approach to the colonization, it is not without caution. The project also recognizes the risks that are involved in an undertaking of this size.

“Mars One identifies two major risk categories: the loss of human life and cost overruns.” (5)

The project recognizes that everything from the smallest detail will have to run like clockwork because the slightest failure or incident could result in the loss of human life. Secondary to the loss of life is the overrunning of costs. Like any project, there are unforeseen complications that could cause the mission to go over budget. However, MarsOne has outlined the steps it has taken to mitigate these risks. (5)

mars settlement

Who Will Get to Mars First?

It is rather hard to tell since Elon Musk is not really forthcoming about his plans to get there or establish a city, but does have plenty of money to throw at the idea.

On the other hand, the MarsOne project appears to have an aggressive, but well thought out plan that even factors in the risks.

Unfortunately, the project must also remain in a perpetual state of fundraising to keep itself going.

It seems to me that to give a Martian colony the best chances at survival, SpaceX and MarsOne should join forces allowing the race to end in a tie. Though it would be a tie for SpaceX and MarsOne, it would be a win for the human race.

References & Image Credits:
(1) Business Insider: Elon Musk and Colbert Talk SpaceX Mars
(2) Business Insider: Elon Musk Wants to Build a City on Mars
(3) MarsOne

Originally published on

  • Johnny Le

    Technology-wise, what has MarsOne done so far to ensure their mission is on track? Any rocket building?

  • Curtis Quick

    I can see why MarsOne would want to join forces with SpaceX – MarsOne needs cheap access to Mars-bound rockets. But I don’t see why SpaceX would want to join forces with MarsOne – Mars colony plans are a dime a dozen. I am sure Elon has his colony plans that are just as elaborate, if not moreso, than MarsOne.

    However, if MarsOne ponied up the money, I am sure a deal could emerge that would see lower cost launchers for MarsOne missions with SpaceX colonists along for the ride.

  • michael

    Dear Friend,

    you noticed that Mars One relies on the SpaceX technology? That makes your point sort of go away.

    good luck anyway!

  • That’s just it. Since Musk is not overly forthcoming with his plans, it is really difficult to say which plan is better. Musk’s plan might be better; however, if not joining up could benefit both teams.

  • That’s not exactly a partnership though. Moreover, they are only theorizing the use of the Falcon Heavy from SpaceX. Landers from SpaceX and Lockheed Martin are both being looked at. Just as the US is not in a partnership with Russia to get to the ISS. Reliance is not a partnership. Just as NASA is ending its reliance on Russia, once able to, Mars One would probably quickly end its reliance on Space X.

  • No rocket building to date. However, a request for proposals on payloads have been issued along with talks with contractors over rover construction.

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