Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why a private company won’t get us to Mars

Neil degrasse tyson mars startalk
Neil deGrasse Tyson. Fox

Although dutch company Mars One aims to send unmanned robotic missions and ultimately the first settlers to Mars, celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said private companies won’t be the ones to get humans to the Red Planet.

“They’re not doing the same thing, and they can’t, really,” Tyson told Business Insider while promoting his National Geographic Channel series, “StarTalk,” which is adapted from his popular podcast of the same name. “The private company is not going to lead a mission to Mars. It’s not going to happen. If they do, it will be a one-off, and it’s not a business model.”

Startalk mars neil degrasse tyson national geographic channel
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Eugene Mirman discuss Mars on Nat Geo’s ‘StarTalk.’ National Geographic Channel

Tyson wanted to be clear that he doesn’t rule out the possibility that NASA would use a spaceship made by a private company for a mission to Mars.

“That’s different,” he clarified. “If NASA’s taking us to Mars, which is how it’s going to have to happen, then that’s tax-based money paying for that private vehicle.”

In the 57-year-old scientist’s mind, a government agency would be the only entity able to plan over a long period of time for a project like going to Mars.

“[Governments] say, ‘We want to invest in our country, five years down the line, 10 years down the line,'” Tyson said, “whereas the CEO of XYZ company has to satisfy the quarterly report and the annual report. So you don’t have the luxury of the long-term investment the way the country does. So the government does it first, and it farms out the routine things to private enterprise, who can do it efficiently.”

Tyson’s thinking is aligned with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who suggested, at the first annual SpaceCom Expo in Houston last week, that as NASA turns its attention to Mars, private companies can help with low-orbit functions like maintaining the International Space Station and providing trips to the moon.

“So right now, SpaceX is carrying cargo, that and maybe, ultimately, astronauts, back and forth to the space station,” Tyson suggested. “You don’t need NASA to do that, to be a cargo vessel. NASA is for advancing a frontier, not for housekeeping on the frontier.”

“StarTalk” airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on National Geographic Channel.

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