And one of those competitors says he's going to beat Musk to the punch.
Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing, says his company will deliver the first people to the Red Planet. "I'm convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket," he said at a conference Tuesday, according to Bloomberg.
Boeing has a history when it comes to space. The company built the first stage of the Saturn V, the rocket that took men to the moon. To date, it's the most powerful rocket ever built.
Musk's plan calls for a rocket with tens of millions of pounds of thrust at launch. By comparison, the Saturn V created 7.5 million pounds. So building something with such a massive degree of power, while not impossible, is certainly years away.
SpaceX refers to its still-unnamed Mars-faring rocket as the BFR, or "Big Fucking Rocket." Musk revealed last week that he wants to send 100 people at a time to Mars on the rocket, with the first crew arriving around 2023. Estimates say that to travel to Mars and carry that amount of cargo, it would have to be twice the size of Saturn V.
Boeing, meanwhile, has the advantage of working directly with NASA on the project. Together, the two are developing a rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) that can be used to transport people beyond the moon. The rocket will produce 8.5 million pounds of thrust--enough, they hope, to take people well beyond the moon and eventually to Mars. Its first unmanned test flight is scheduled for 2018. Boeing and NASA hope to send humans on a trip past the moon in 2021.
In 2016 alone, the U.S. government gave NASA $2 billion toward developing the SLS with Boeing. SpaceX, meanwhile, has raised about $1.2 billion total in VC money since its founding in 2002. It lacks any funding from NASA for its Mars project--for now. If Musk can prove out some of his company's Mars-centric technology, it's possible that could change. SpaceX already has a contract with NASA for another venture: ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station beginning in 2017. The only other company NASA chose for the partnership? Boeing.