The race for Mars continues to heat up as theNASA Curiosity Rover mission reaches new milestones, and both SpaceX and Boeing unveil their plans to be the first to reach our neighbor in the solar system.

NASA's Journey to Mars

When it comes to the red planet, NASA has a few irons on the fire. The Space agency recently tested a new camera-based navigation system for its Mars 2020 rover mission. They system, built by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California, takes pictures of ground terrain as a spacecraft approaches landing, comparing the image to onboard maps. The idea is to help avoid hazards like boulders on landing.

NASA's Curiosity Rover just began its extended mission on October 1 by adding to the over 180,000 images it has taken so far. The Curiosity Rover's mission is to explore and examine Mars, how it has evolved, using the information to plan NASA's ultimate Journey to Mars, with manned missions planned for the 2030's.

SpaceX vs. Boeing

While NASA is in it for the science, what's at stake for private companies in the race for space? Boeing and SpaceX are the first commercial companies that NASA has ever used to transport astronauts to the ISS (International Space Station). The idea is to join the ISS in its low-Earth orbit to a network of orbiting hotels, factories and other installations carrying out manufacturing as well as research activities.

As reported in Bloomberg, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told the audience at a tech conference in Chicago on October 4 that he sees space tourism "blossoming over the next couple of years into a viable commercial market." He described Boeing's focus on producing spacecraft with tourists -- and not astronauts -- in mind.

That's not all. Muilenberg says he sees the future in commercial space travel that will include multiple destinations that orbit earth, using hypersonic shuttles to transport passengers between continents in two hours -- or less. Muilenberg also boasted that his company would reach Mars before Elon Musk and SpaceX.

Boeing is currently working with NASA on the Space Launch System project that will be used for deep space exploration.

Just last week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk showed off plans for what he's calling an Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) that he sees as just the beginning. His Mars bound spaceships will be able to handle 100 travelers or more at a time, with luxury features for upscale tourists. His plan is for mass market space travel, with tickets starting at about $100K. Musk's agenda includes an unmanned mission to Mars by 2018 and a manned capsule by 2024. Musk says he sees the human race as a "multiplanetary species," a position he outlined at the International Aeronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

While SpaceX has been working in consultation with NASA, it's not entirely clear at this point whether the first Mars launch will be a joint project or whether SpaceX might actually intend on pushing a launch through on their own several years before NASA's 2030's projection.

Along with NASA, China, Russia, and Japan are also fielding projects with a view to exploration of Mars.

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