Yesterday, SpaceX announced plans to send an unmanned capsule to Mars – in 2018! Company CEO Elon Musk has long had a vision of establishing a permanent manned presence on the Red Planet and this planned launch represents the first step in meeting that vision. The mission will essentially be a technology demonstration – no rovers, landers or grand scientific experiments will be a part of it. Yet, it will yield important information for future trips to the planet.

reddragon-reentry

Depiction of a Dragon 2 capsule entering the Martian atmosphere

The spacecraft landing on Mars will be an unmodified Dragon 2 capsule. What makes this interesting is that if it can land on Mars, it can conceivably land on any moon around any of the outer planets, opening the door for a myriad of future missions.

NASA will provide technical support and guidance, but no funding will go to SpaceX in support of the mission.

“In exchange for Martian entry, descent, and landing data from SpaceX, NASA will offer technical support for the firm’s plan to attempt to land an uncrewed Dragon 2 spacecraft on Mars,” NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman mentioned in an agency blog post.

“When he laid out his plans for NASA and the Journey to Mars in 2010, President Obama spoke of how partnership with industry could have the potential to ‘accelerate the pace of innovations as companies — from young startups to established leaders — compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere.’ This is exactly what’s happening and it’s one of the reasons that we’re closer to sending humans to Mars than ever before.”

Image credit: SpaceX

Posted by Darren Beyer

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