Elon Musk’s interest for Mars is well known by now, which is why the SpaceX and Tesla boss is partnering with NASA for a mission to the Red Planet. This isn’t the highly anticipated manned mission, but it’s still pretty important in its own right nevertheless. The space agency wants to go to Mars in order to retrieve samples collected by Mars rover 2020. As it happens, Elon Musk wants to go to Mars as well and came to an arrangement with NASA so that the two can work together on a project known as Red Dragon.
The plan will be put into action by 2022 when a SpaceX Falcon rocket will take a capsule dubbed Dragon 2 to the Red Planet. The Dragon 2 is a modified version of the regular Dragon capsule that NASA and SpaceX have been using to send supplies to the International Space Station. According to a tweet sent by Elon Musk, the “Dragon 2 is designed to land on any surface (liquid or solid) in the solar system. Am glad to see people thinking about applications!”
The Falcon rocket itself will also undergo modifications, with the version heading to Mars in 2022 said to be much more capable than the current model. Dubbed Falcon Heavy, the new rocket will be able to send capsules as far as Jupiter’s moons. Musk also seems interested in participating in a mission to Europa, though it may take a while longer until that happens.
In expendable mode, Falcon Heavy can send a fully loaded Dragon to Mars or a light Dragon to Jupiter's moons. Europa mission wd be cool.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 14, 2015
The Red Dragon project was formed in order to allow researchers on Earth to carefully analyze Mars samples without having to go there. Earlier this year, there was a lot of buzz when the Curiosity rover discovered water on the Red Planet, which seems to indicate that life was at one point present on Mars. Who knows, maybe some small remnants are still out there. While chances of finding alien life are slim, the Red Dragon project is still a worthy investment because both NASA and Elon Musk would want to see humans on Mars sometime in the next couple of decades and it is imperative to have as much data as possible about the planet before the first colonists arrive.
Even though Curiosity is still exploring Mars as we speak, NASA already drew projects for a more advanced robot dubbed Mars rover 2020. If everything goes according to plan, this new rover will gather and stash plenty of samples by the time Red Dragon arrives. It’s worth mentioning that the project itself is just a concept for now, however, all those involved seem really excited about the idea and will most likely end up putting it into practice.
Elon Musk himself already shared concept images of Dragon 2 and its journey to Mars. Meanwhile, NASA reacted very positively to the concept upon speaking about it last Wednesday at a presentation with the Future In-Space Operations group. The Red Dragon project is “technically feasible with the use of these emerging commercial technologies, coupled with technologies that already exist,” said Andy Gonzales, Senior Systems Aerospace Engineer at NASA Ames Research Center.