The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the recent announcement by SpaceX’s Elon Musk of accelerated plans to found a colony on Mars will put pressure on NASA, which has been mired in its own Journey to Mars until recently. Musk is claiming that he can do more, sooner, and for less money than the Space Agency could ever dream of doing. Can NASA adopt some of SpaceX’s practices to become more efficient and less costly? What if NASA were to form a partnership with companies like SpaceX to get to Mars? If Musk can start a Mars colony by himself, do we even need NASA?

How believable are Elon Musk’s plans for Mars?

Even Musk has called his goal of launching the first BFR launch systems to Mars by 2022 “aspirational.” That word is short for it will likely come later and also will probably more expensive.

Musk has missed deadlines and has canceled previously announced projects before. The Falcon Heavy, due to be launched at the end of 2017, is years behind schedule. The list of SpaceX projects that have gone by the wayside includes the Falcon 1, the Red Dragon Mars lander, and the super-sized version of the BFR launch vehicle.

Nevertheless, Musk has achieved rock star status in aerospace circles by making the first stage of the Falcon 9 land and therefore reusable. That feat promises to lower the cost of space travel considerably as other launch companies scramble to catch up.

How could NASA respond?

The possibility that NASA would be closed down and the United States government pat Elon Musk on the head, telling him “go for it,” is all but nil. The United States is not going to give up on the agency that landed men on the moon in eight short years just because Elon Musk has a set of grand plans.

However, the space agency is likely to partner with companies like SpaceX for its deep space exploration plans. The BFR might become a reality or then again it might not. NASA could help things along with some money and assistance and, in the fullness of time, some fat launch contracts. Of course, an operational BFR, capable of lifting 150 metric tons into low Earth orbit, would out remarkable pressure on the more expensive to build and operate Space Launch System. Even some of the SLS’s congressional sponsors may come to doubt its utility if the BFR is regularly launching.

In any case, NASA has time to consider whether there is such a thing as an “Elon Musk” effect. Then the space agency will have to decide what to do about it.