Occupy Mars is a slogan that SpaceX has on t-shirts they have for sale and has been a goal of Elon Musk’s company for some years now. The development of the Falcon Heavy was not only developed to help SpaceX compete for heavier military payloads, but to also be the launchers to send people to Mars, and to create a Mars colony in the near future, most likely will beat NASA in the goal of sending humans to Mars.
Two days ago (April 27), SpaceX released a very vague announcement, and what we know right now is that the company is planning to launching a Dragon capsule (called Red Dragon) to Mars in 2018 with the help of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Red Dragon is a variant of the Dragon 2 (crewed version of the Dragon capsule) and NASA may sign on to get data gathered from the landing on Mars. Red Dragon, like the crewed Dragon 2 capsule can land using thruster engines to slow the capsule to a soft touchdown. Due to Dragon’s incredible versatility to land on either land or water, SpaceX could send human explorers anywhere in the solar system with the appropriate architecture.
While this possible mission in 2018 will be unmanned, it will add a lot of experience for landing humans on Mars. There is no word on what will be inside of the Red Dragon capsule or what architecture SpaceX will go with for beginning a colony on Mars. There will be another announcement about their concepts in September at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. These test flights will be to gather experience landing large payloads on Mars.
This is very exciting to see this private company take the wheel and hopefully work with NASA to make colonizing Mars a reality, and before the late 2030s that NASA has a goal for landing humans on the planet. NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) heavy lift rocket, that is scheduled for a test flight in November 2018, could help send larger payloads due to its superior upmass ability compared to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which is now scheduled for a test flight in November of this year.
Photo: Dragon 2 Super Draco thrusters being tested in Texas. Credit: SpaceX