Billionaire Elon Musk famously said a few years ago that he wants to die on Mars – just not on impact. On Wednesday, his company SpaceX surprised the world by announcing that it will send a mission to Mars as early as 2018. Though it will be an unmanned mission, it would represent a major first step towards Musk’s mission to colonize Mars.
NASA to offer technical support to SpaceX
Red Dragon, a modified version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will be launched using the California company’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket, which is expected to debut by the end of this year. However, SpaceX is not the only organization gearing up for a Mars mission. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is planning to launch a mission to the red planet in 2020.
Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come pic.twitter.com/u4nbVUNCpA
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
Though Mars in roughly 140 million miles from Earth, the two planets come within 35 million miles of each other every 26 months as they orbit the Sun. Mars and Earth will be close to each other in 2018 as well as 2020, making an interplanetary voyage easier. NASA will be providing “technical support” to SpaceX in exchange for valuable data on Martian entry, descent, and landing.
Dragon 2 can land anywhere in the solar system
Landing large payloads on the red planet won’t be easy as it has a thin atmosphere. SpaceX is planning to use propulsive technologies to land the Red Dragon spacecraft on Martian surface. Red Dragon is an updated version of the Dragon 2 spacecraft that is “designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system.” It is an incredibly ambitious and difficult mission that only government agencies have dared try.
Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system. Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2016
Elon Musk’s timeline is ambitious, but reasonable. The company already has the spacecraft, the rocket, the money, and technical support from NASA. NASA plans to send humans to the red planet in the 2030s. SpaceX recently created history by safely landing the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage. Recovering and reusing the first stage of rockets could dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflights.