June 12 14:40 2016 Print This Article

(POPULAR MECHANICS) – The human race is quickly becoming a spacefaring civilization. During the Cold War, aggression and technological rivalry between two superpowers led to humanity’s first journey into space and to those first footsteps on the Moon. Today, exploration is driven by competition in the commercial space industry.

Private companies like SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada Corp are already signed up to carry cargo to the International Space Station. Later, they’ll also build and fly their own human-capable spacecraft, while NASA itself focuses on building a vehicle that will eventually take humans to Mars.

While the commercial industry crowds the skies with a lineup of upcoming vehicles, the space tourism industry is not too far behind. Billionaire titans Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson are quickly on their way to providing life-changing passenger flights to the edges of space. Even a smaller outfit, World View, is competing for a slice of what will become a lucrative industry. In a few years, it won’t be a question of IF you’ll ever become astronaut, but WHEN (and for what price). These are the vehicles that could take you there.


NASA’s journey to Mars started becoming a reality in 2014 during the first flight test of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin for NASA, the Orion will propel humans beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and eventually help us traverse deep space to reach Mars.

Orion can transport up to four astronauts and keep them safe for about 21 days. But longer stays will require a habitat module — which Lockheed Martin is already conceptualizing. The contractor has also recently released its own playbook on how humans can first orbit Mars before finally stepping foot on the ground.

In 2018, an unmanned Orion will be launched atop the most powerful rocket ever built, NASA’s Space Launch System, and travel about 43,000 miles past the Moon. While breaking the record for the furthest a human-rated vehicle has ever travelled, Orion will spend its 21-day mission pushing many of its systems to their limits.

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