Now that the first test flight is out of the way, SpaceX engineers have a wealth of data that will help them figure out how to stick the landing and push Starship to higher altitudes. While its first jaunts to orbit will be uncrewed, Starship is destined to carry astronauts beyond low earth orbit. Musk already sold Starship’s first crewed flight around the moon to the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who pledged to bring a handful of artists along for the ride. The leaders of NASA’s human spaceflight program are also interested in leveraging Starship for their own lunar ambitions. Earlier this year, the agency tapped SpaceX to develop a version of the rocket that is capable of landing astronauts on the moon’s surface.But the real reason SpaceX is developing Starship—and the whole reason Musk got into the space business to begin with—is to get boot prints on the Red Planet. If Musk wants to settle Mars in a reasonable amount of time, he’s going to need a large interplanetary transport system that can carry hundreds of tons of cargo and dozens of passengers at a time. Earlier this month, Musk predicted that Starship might carry the first astronauts to Mars as early as 2026, an incredibly aggressive timeline that only a few months ago would have seemed delusional. But now that Starship has taken to the skies, Mars really does feel closer than ever.
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