The New Space Race: 3 Companies on a Mission to Mars

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Putting a man on the Moon is, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable feats of human achievement. The accomplishment also underscores humanity's thirst for competition, as the conclusion of the "Space Race" between the United States and the Soviet Union all but squashed our desire to visit the Moon, and humans have not visited the celestial body since 1972.

Now, some 25 years after the last manned mission left our Moon, humanity finds itself on the cusp of another major Space Race-and bringing man to Mars is the objective.

Besides the more advantageous destination, which would mark humankind's first visit to another planet, the current race to Mars is also different than the original Space Race because of the parties involved. Gone are the days when space served as a front for the Cold War; today, the Space Race is being held by multibillion dollar corporations.

The current frontrunners in the race made their positions clear last week, when BoeingBA CEO Dennis Muilenburg boldly declared that his company would beat Elon Musk's SpaceX to the red planet. Musk's Response? Bring it on:

But Musk, who rose to fame as a co-founder of PayPal PYPL and now runs Tesla TSLA , is not the only celebrity tech entrepreneur that Muilenberg and Boeing will square off against.

The third major player in today's Space Race is Blue Origin , a privately held spaceflight services company created by Jeff Bezos. The Amazon AMZN founder has used some of his own e-commerce riches to fund Blue Origin, which promises to lower costs and make private human space travel more reliable.

Being the first organization to send humans to Mars is not a publicized goal for Blue Origin, although one would assume that establishing the planet as a realistic destination is a goal for any space tourism company.

SpaceX, on the other hand, is adamant about its desire to reach the red planet first. In a 2011 interview with the Wall Street Journal , Musk said that a 2021 arrival date was SpaceX's best-case-scenario , even though NASA does not expect to bring humans to Mars until the 2030s.

In fact, Musk's worst-case predication was that SpaceX would put a man on Mars within 15 to 20 years, meaning that the enigmatic CEO is pretty confident that his company will beat the world's premiere space agency there.

Nevertheless, Boeing might already have a significant head-start. The aerospace behemoth is building NASA's Space Launch System, a new design that Muilenberg has described as the "largest and most powerful rocket ever built."

The ultimate goal of Boeing's new Launch System is to send a deep space capsule piloted by American astronauts further into space than manned aircraft has ever travelled. According to a recent Chicago Tribunereport , one scenario includes astronauts making a pit stop at a Moon-based docking station before heading to Mars.

As competition continues to heat up, Boeing's biggest advantage is a steady stream of cash from its other operations. Demand for the company's flagship commercial jets is strong, and at the end of its most recent quarter, Boeing's cash and marketable securities totaled $10 billion.

Founded in 2002, SpaceX survived on about $1 billion in private funding through its first decade of operation. The company now generates revenue by running cargo missions to the International Space Station, and it recently raised another $350 million at a valuation of $21 billion. Meanwhile, Bezos plans to sell about $1 billion in Amazon stock every year to fund Blue Origin.

The galactic exploration business is expensive, so Boeing's unique ability to shell out cash further highlights its leadership position in the modern-day Space Race. But will the company beat Musk and Bezos to Mars? We will have to wait and see.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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