Leanne Caret, CEO of Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security division, boiled down the aerospace manufacturer’s astronomical ambitions at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday: “We’re building the largest rocket that’s going to take us to Mars.”
Designed for NASA, the so-called Space Launch System will be the most powerful rocket in history. But Caret has a more practical purpose in mind for the Boeing (BA) spaceship, including leisure travel and vacation. “You want to go with me?” she asked at the conference.
Of course, vacationing on Mars would require some planning beyond what’s necessary for even the most exotic earthly destinations.
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“The moon would be easier than Mars, because it takes you so long to get to Mars and back,” she said, estimating the length of the journey at around two years each way. “It depends on how old we are.”
“You have to be really paid up on your mortgage,” she joked. “You’ve got to have things kind of worked out before you leave—it’s not just, ‘Oh I’ll just email them, it’ll all be fine.'”
At first, the rocket will travel to Mars unmanned, just as the first trips to the moon were. Eventually, though, the missions to Mars will be manned— “‘manned’ being men and women,” said Caret, who believes it will happen in her lifetime.
When she’s not dreaming of visiting the red planet, Caret is also working to ensure the smooth operation of Boeing satellites, which are relied on by both the U.S. government for data collection, and consumers for myriad smartphone functions, such as GPS and location-based apps. That’s no small task, she explained, when the “threat environment” can range from Chinese spy satellites to a potential attack by North Korea. “We want assured space,” Caret said.
But the Mars mission is special to Caret not only because she looks forward to taking an extraterrestrial holiday. Her parents, who also worked for Boeing, met while building the Saturn V “Apollo” spacecraft that launched the first man to the moon—at the very same Louisiana factory where Caret is now overseeing the new Mars rocket, she said: “How ironic is that!”