Its name will be "Red Dragon." And if the latest partnership between SpaceX and NASA works out, the privately funded craft will land on Mars to collect scientific data — possibly within the next two years. The plan is to use the Dragon capsule, but without a human crew.
"SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018," the company said via Facebook Wednesday. "These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars."
A propulsive landing, we'll remind you, is the use of powerful rockets to lower the spacecraft in a stable — and, if all goes well, reusable — position.
"You can't land on Mars using parachutes like you would on Earth," NPR's Geoff Brumfiel tells us, "because the atmosphere isn't thick enough."
The Dragon craft is meant to carry astronauts, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk says the SUV-sized interior of the craft would make it difficult for humans to endure any trips longer than from the Earth to the moon.