Boeing CEO is bullish on business in Earth orbit

Dennis Muilenburg
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg speaks at Northwestern University, with a model of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket standing in front of him. (Boeing via Facebook)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg predicts that the number of space destinations will grow from one — the International Space Station — to 10 or 12 over the next couple of decades, creating an “economically viable marketplace” in Earth orbit.

And he sees Boeing being in the thick of it.

Tonight Muilenburg sketched out a vision of space commerce and exploration that extended from low Earth orbit to Mars and beyond. The occasion was the 34th Annual Patterson Transportation Lecture, delivered at the Northwestern University Transportation Center near Boeing’s headquarters in Chicago.

Muilenburg repeated his controversial pledge that NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System, which has Boeing as one of its lead contractors, will be the first rocket to send humans to Mars. (SpaceX and its fans might beg to differ on that point.)

But it was his vision for a commercial transportation system in low Earth orbit that showed how many of Boeing’s interests — ranging from airplane and satellite manufacturing to its work on the Phantom Express space plane and CST-100 Starliner space taxi — come together on the final frontier.

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@BoeingCEO gets ready for Twitter takeoff

Dennis Muilenburg Twitter profile
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is due to post his first tweet this week. (Boeing via Twitter)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s corporate Twitter account has lain fallow like an Iowa farm field ever since he took over the top post in mid-2015, but now it’s time for @BoeingCEO to sing out.

Muilenburg, who also serves as Boeing’s chairman and president, will make his Twitter debut on Jan. 31 with the announcement of the company’s fourth-quarter financial results for 2017 and Boeing’s guidance for business in 2018.

“This new communications approach for our CEO will provide an effective platform for sharing company news and industry insight,” Phil Musser, Boeing senior vice president of communications, said today in a news release. “It also will help us highlight the inspirational, innovative work of our people, and better connect with customers, stakeholders and aerospace enthusiasts — where the conversations are taking place.”

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Will CEOs set up a Boeing vs. SpaceX race to Mars?

Musk and Muilenburg
SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg have something of a space rivalry going on. (Elon Musk via Twitter; Dennis Muilenburg via Boeing)

So what does SpaceX CEO Elon Musk think of Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s claim that the first people to set foot on Mars will arrive on a Boeing rocket? “Do it,” Musk tweeted, in one of many two-word comebacks that might have come to mind.

The latest round of media jousting started when CNBC’s Jim Cramer brought up Mars during an interview with Muilenburg. “Who’s going to get a man on Mars first, you or Elon Musk?” Cramer asked.

In response, Muilenburg touted the Space Launch System, the heavy-lift rocket that Boeing is helping NASA build for deep-space missions.

“We’re going to take a first test flight in 2019, and we’re going to do a slingshot mission around the moon,” he said. “Eventually, we’re going to go to Mars, and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket.”

Muilenburg said pretty much the same thing last year during an industry conference in Chicago, but since then, Musk has laid out a vision that calls for sending settlers to Mars on SpaceX’s yet-to-be-built monster spaceship starting in the 2020s.

If Musk and NASA stick to their current schedules, the first bootprints on the Martian surface would be left by folks arriving on a SpaceX rocket as much as a decade before the Space Launch System sends a spaceship there.

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