Picture this: A team of space travelers blasts off from Earth in a fully automated shuttle that carries them to an outpost orbiting around the moon, where they will embark on a voyage to Mars.
Though it sounds like science fiction, this fantastic journey may be closer than you think: An automated spacecraft designed to transport people into low Earth orbit could be ready for its maiden (uncrewed) voyage as early as this summer.
The new spacecraft, called the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner, is being developed in partnership with NASA by a private company generally associated with commercial airplanes: Boeing. The Starliner is capable of carrying up to seven passengers as far as the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit.
But that milestone will be just the first step toward eventually flying travelers to the moon and then Mars, experts here at the Future Con panel “Intergalactic to Planetary: Science Fiction to Science Fact” told audience members on March 30.
Starliner is intended to be the world’s first commercial space vehicle, a reusable capsule designed for land-based returns. It will also be fully autonomous, to reduce training time for its crews, according to the project website.
Read More: Live Science