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SpaceX Announces They’re Sending an Uncrewed Spacecraft to Mars in 2018

SpaceX’s planned exploration of Mars will happen very soon. Is 2018 soon enough for you? In two years’ time, the private space exploration company plans to put an uncrewed spacecraft called the “Red Dragon” to the Red Planet. If that timeline shakes out, then SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s claim that SpaceX could get people to Mars by 2026 doesn’t seem quite as unbelievable.

A SpaceX spokesperson has informed Gizmodo that the Red Dragon’s mission will help test the safety of landing large payloads on Mars. This Red Dragon will be equipped with an updated version of the Falcon 9 rocket, which SpaceX recently tested here on Earth by landing it on a drone in the middle of the ocean.

The Red Dragon won’t just be heavy for the sake of testing out a gentle landing of a heavy craft. It’ll also be carrying some important materials that could be used in future Mars missions, such as for building and maintaining Mars colony structures. Musk will reveal more about these plans at the International Aeronautical Conference this September.

Elon Musk also tweeted that the Red Dragon has the capability to explore planets even beyond Mars, should the need (or desire?) arise for such explorations. However, it would be difficult for astronauts to travel inside of the Red Dragon, particularly for long journeys, because the space inside the Red Dragon is about the size of an SUV, according to Musk. Even a trek to our own Moon seems like it would quite a cramped road trip, if that’s really the size of it!

SpaceX has long been working on spacecrafts designed for crews, such as the Dragon V2, which looks much comfier than an SUV on the inside. They’ve got ten years to work out all the kinks, anyway.

(via Gizmodo, image via SpaceX on Flickr)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).