To Mars and beyond: NASA and Musk lead expeditions into space

Mars Perseverance rover (Photo @nasasolarsystem on Instagram)

On Jul. 30 NASA’s Perseverance Rover launched from Earth. Almost six months later, on Feb. 18, the team of scientists, researchers and engineers who worked on the project watched with pride and anticipation as the rover touched down 140 million miles away on the surface of Mars.

Perseverance landed at the Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient river delta on Mars. Based on evidence from previous expeditions confirming water on the planet’s surface, scientists know that Mars was once a planet that could support life, although the lakes and oceans that once existed are now frozen over.

WHS Physics Teacher Valentino Scipioni explained that Mars is a planet that humans want to learn more about because “if there was once life [on Mars], knowing what happened to it may answer some questions about our own future. This could also be the stepping stone for space exploration beyond our solar system.”

According to, the purpose of the Perseverance mission is to gain a better understanding of the geology of Mars and to “collect samples of rock and regolith that will be returned to Earth in the future to search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars.”

The Perseverance Mars Rover is just one part of America’s larger explorations into space and onto the Red Planet. The two main sectors that are involved in space exploration and travel are NASA, which is funded by the government, and private companies like SpaceX. These two agencies work alongside one another to reach a common goal of making space more accessible.

Founded in 2002 by billionaire Elon Musk, SpaceX was one of the first private companies that NASA invested in. SpaceX has helped renew public interest in space travel, which has reached a low because of the infrequency of NASA’s missions. This is largely due to financial constraints since the government has limited funds to allocate towards research and expeditions. This is not the case for private companies, which thrive off investments from individuals and are able to take more risks as government-independent organizations. 

Musk began his all-civilian mission to Mars in 2016. Initially, he predicted that Starship, a fully reusable rocket with quick turnaround flights that can transport up to 100 people at a time, would reach Mars by 2020, but that date has since been extended. Musk’s most recent timeline consists of beginning orbital tests within the next year, and in an interview with podcast host Joe Rogan, he said that the first human mission to Mars can be expected by 2026. 

Thus far, many of Musk’s test rockets have exploded, but Musk does not seem concerned. According to, “These test flights are all about improving our understanding and development of a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.”

At five thousand tons, Starship is the largest flying object that has ever been made. Musk explained how getting to space, where the atmosphere is thin, is relatively easy, but getting into orbit is much more challenging. Musk said, “The really hard thing is we need to have a fully and rapidly reusable rocket where the only major cost is fuel, and this has never been done before.”

You may be wondering, “Why should I care about Mars?” The answer is that Mars is the future of human life. Humans can only live on Earth for so long before the planet becomes uninhabitable because of forces like disease, World War, natural disasters or something else altogether. This happened when dinosaurs went extinct, and it will happen again. Scipioni said, “Eventually this planet will be in danger of celestial events that we cannot control and we will need to locate other places to live.”

NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on Feb. 18.

In order for humans to continue to advance and truly understand the meaning of life, Musk said, “We have to expand [our] scope and scale of consciousness. A species that does not become multi-planetary is simply waiting around until there’s some extinction event.” 

Mars is the closest planet to Earth that could support life, but it will take time and many technological advancements before humans are able to form a permanent civilization there. For one, the surface of Mars would have to be warmed up in order to liquefy frozen water and allow carbon dioxide to densify the atmosphere to create a habitable environment. 

Musk proposed a few ideas for how Mars could be converted into a liveable environment which includes using giant solar panels or creating miniature versions of the sun to warm-up the planet. Scipioni also mentioned that bio-domes could possibly allow humans to survive on Mars. 

The most challenging part about forming a civilization on Mars is that the civilization would have to be able to survive on its own without any assistance or resources from Earth. In the end, the goal of creating life on Mars is to have another place for people to live if and when something happens to Earth, so Mars has to be a completely self-sustaining environment.

While it is possible that a civilization could be founded on Mars, WHS Physics Teacher Josh Garodnick doesn’t envision this milestone occurring within our lifetime because there is still so much that remains unknown. Garodnick said, “There was so much testing and research that went on in the background to allow the Mars rover to land, and that’s just to get an unmanned rover on Mars. I can only imagine what it would take for humans to survive a trip to Mars and what effect that would have on [them].”

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Mars, Musk remains hopeful for future missions as he continues to explore new frontiers and break through boundaries. He said, “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.” 

Check out these resources from NASA to watch the Perseverance landing and explore Mars:

Video of the Perseverance landing 

Send your name to Mars