Just thought I'd end this month by sharing these images that were released online when SpaceX made a major announcement last Wednesday that it was planning to send an unmanned Dragon capsule to Mars. Elon Musk's company is eyeing 2018 (which would also be when NASA's InSight robotic lander heads to the Red Planet as well) as the year a Dragon V2 (now known as Crew Dragon) vehicle launches aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket and heads to Earth's rust-colored celestial neighbor. The Falcon Heavy itself is scheduled to make its maiden flight later this year, with SpaceX (along with Boeing and its CST-100 capsule) also hoping to send a Crew Dragon vessel—with astronauts aboard—to the International Space Station in 2017.
Recently tested Dragon 2’s SuperDraco propulsive landing system at our McGregor, TX facility. Key for Mars landing pic.twitter.com/dV1nhKDMhr— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
NASA will be involved with the Red Dragon mission...providing interplanetary communications via the agency's Deep Space Network, as well as lending expertise in terms of how to navigate to the Red Planet and enter its thin atmosphere. [SpaceX is planning to land Dragon on Mars via propulsive landing—relying on SuperDraco thrusters (shown above) to bring the craft to a touchdown and not employing parachutes, at all.] NASA, in return, will receive technical and science data from the Red Dragon flight that will guide the agency as it aims to send humans to Mars about two decades from now. No money will be exchanged between SpaceX and NASA in the 2018 endeavor.