With some technical help from NASA, aerospace company SpaceX plans to launch a mission to Mars as soon as 2018.
While NASA has been sending robotic landers and orbiters to Mars and making plans to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s, SpaceX is planning on getting there sooner.
The company, which is headed by billionaire high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, tweeted today, "Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come."
Musk then went on to tweet that the Dragon 2 spacecraft, known as Red Dragon, is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system. The Red Dragon Mars mission will be its first test flight.
"But wouldn't recommend transporting astronauts beyond Earth-moon region," he went on to tweet. "Wouldn't be fun for longer journeys. Internal volume ~size of SUV."
It's not yet clear where the spacecraft would land on Mars or what kind of payload it would carry.
Musk has said in the past that he not only wants to one day send humans to Mars but he hopes to actually build cities there.
"It would be just the greatest adventure ever," he said of the planned colonization project.
SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, is under contract with NASA to send unmanned spacecraft carrying supplies to the International Space Station.The cargo includes food, mechanical parts and scientific experiments.
SpaceX also has a contract with the space agency to help build the spacecraft that will launch astronauts from U.S. soil to the space station.
The company's planned Mars mission is intended to help test the technologies needed to land large payloads on Mars. The technologies also are part of what the company expects to be used in its Mars colonization plan, which is set to be announced later this year.
The Dragon 2 spacecraft is expected to be launched using SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.
According to NASA, the unmanned SpaceX mission will be part of the many steps taken to eventually get humans to Mars.
"We are closer than ever before to sending American astronauts to Mars than anyone, anywhere, at any time has ever been," wrote NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, in a blog post Wednesday. "In the international space community, gone are the days of the "space race" when the dominant theme was that of various nations racing against each other. Instead, we're increasingly running together."
She added that NASA is "particularly excited" to work with SpaceX on this mission.
In exchange for data on entry into Martian space, descent, and landing from SpaceX, NASA will offer technical support for the company's planned Mars mission.
"As the saying goes, "spaceflight is hard," Newman said. "Sending astronauts to Mars, which will be one of the greatest feats of human innovation in the history of civilization, carries with it many, many puzzles to piece together. That's why we at NASA have made it a priority to reach out to partners in boardrooms, classrooms, laboratories, space agencies and even garages across our country and around the world."
While NASA is aiding with this mission, it is not paying for it. SpaceX is financing the mission, although details on costs weren't available. < /p>