The latest partnership between SpaceX and NASA, named "Red Dragon," might land privately funded spacecraft on Mars within the next two years with the goal of collecting scientific data.
"SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018," the company said on Facebook Wednesday. "These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars."
The mission will utilize powerful rockets to land the spacecraft in a stable position, and if all goes according to plan, it will help the team develop reusable rockets.
While the Dragon craft is designed to carry astronauts, SpaceX founder Elon Musk claims that the size of the craft's interior is small, which will make it unlikely that humans will be able to travel on it for trips longer than from Earth to the moon."You can't land on Mars using parachutes like you would on Earth, because the atmosphere isn't thick enough," NPR's Geoff Brumfiel said.
Musk's announcement is a bold one, but Lori Garver, the former deputy NASA administrator, believes that his company's partnership with NASA - which she describes as similar to a "government-to-government agreement"- is a good sign.
"It is breaking new ground, and I think it's a good sign that NASA is even a partner," she said. "It shows there are people at NASA who are as excited about this as a lot of us are."
"NASA has more expertise in getting to and landing on Mars than any other organization in the world," added John Logsdon, a space historian and professor emeritus at George Washington University. "So if a U.S. company wants to try it on a no-exchange-of-funds basis, why not?"
Getting humans on Mars has been a goal of Musk's for years, and even before he founded SpaceX, he was looking into NASA's plans for the Red Planet.
"Because, of course, there had to be a schedule," he said at a conference a few years ago. "And I couldn't find it. I thought the problem was me. Because, of course, it must be here somewhere on this website, but just well hidden. And it turned out it wasn't on the website at all. Which was shocking."