Red Dragon heading to Mars in 2018 SpaceX mission

28 Apr 2016

Elon Musk’s dream of sending humankind to the surface of Mars is taking one massive step forward with plans to send SpaceX’s Dragon capsules to the Red Planet in 2018.

Back in 2013, Elon Musk was speaking about his hopes for Mars. Sitting on the main stage at Web Summit, he spoke of his childhood dream of a base on the Red Planet.

It seemed so far away, though, as crewed missions into space have been restricted to the International Space Station for decades.

NASA has gotten funding for its Mars programme that will begin in the mid-2020s, with billions of dollars set aside for a three-stage mission. That is not expected to be finished before the late 2030s – owing to the considerable research required into what the human body can be put through.

That’s why the year in space that two astronauts recently completed is such a valuable tool for researchers. But now Musk’s immensely productive SpaceX organisation has revealed that we’re not as far away from a Mars outpost as people thought.

A childhood dream

Back in 2013, Musk said what motivated him was the expectation that there would be a crewed mission to the fourth rock from the sun. “We went to the moon but there was no base on the moon,” he said.

“I thought there would be space hotels and missions to Mars. That didn’t happen. At first, I thought maybe people lost the will to do that and I came up with this idea to get people excited to do that stuff again.

“I came to the conclusion that I was wrong, there is plenty of will in the world but making sure there is a way without bankrupting the economy. I think we can do as much as we can to advance that. I’m not saying we will take people to Mars but we can take things as far as possible.”

It seems that every year another wave of possibilities emerges, with Mars a viable target. At the Web Summit, Musk suggested that a base on Mars by themid-2030ss would be “really great”. His company is helping to lead the way.

Working alongside NASA, SpaceX’s Dragon 2 (known as the Red Dragon, for obvious reasons), will be as much a research mission as anything else. Sending humans remains a distant hope for now, but adding to the Red Planet’s growing armoury of robots, surely, it is only a matter of time before we join them.

In a statement, NASA said it is providing “technical support” for SpaceX’s mission, without financial support. In exchange, SpaceX would provide “valuable entry, descent and landing data to NASA for our journey […] while providing support to American industry”.

Those brilliant retro Mars tourism posters NASA mocked up last year might not be entirely imaginative afterall.

SpaceX Mars

Mars image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic