SpaceX Mars mission is a go for 2018

Elon Musk to send in the Red Dragon

SpaceX is planning to send a rocket to Mars in the next two years, making it the first private space company to reach our neighboring Red Planet.

The company will use its still-in-concept Red Dragon capsule for the Mars landing "as soon as 2018," according to a surprise tweet by the company today.

Landing a reusable spacecraft on Mars is just the first step for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk who, earlier this year, said he wanted humans to colonize Mars by 2025.

To get to Mars, however, Musk and company plan to use Falcon Heavy, the bigger brother of the Falcon 9. They both acts as a lift vehicles, but the Falcon Heavy can lift 4 times as much weight.

So close, but so far, far away

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Like the Falcon 9, plans are to make the Falcon Heavy and its Mars-bound Red Dragon capsule reusable.

That "reusable rocket" portion of the equation has been a hit and a miss and a miss for SpaceX on Earth. Mars' thinner atmosphere presents an even bigger challenge to the SpaceX team.

It'll be an engineering feat if the company call pull off the Mars landing with the Falcon Heavy-propelled Red Dragon by 2018, as both still haven't been tested out on the SpaceX launchpad (and landing pad) just yet.

Dreams as big as Jupiter

Mars appears to be only one stop for this second-generation Dragon capsule, according to Musk who weighed in today shortly after the official announcement.

"Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system," he tweeted. "Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight."

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Digging into some older Musk tweets, he's echoing the same theory from 2015: "Dragon 2 is designed to land on any surface (liquid or solid) in the solar system," he said last September.

'Falcon Heavy can send a fully loaded Dragon to Mars or a light Dragon to Jupiter's moons.'

"In expendable mode, Falcon Heavy can send a fully loaded Dragon to Mars or a light Dragon to Jupiter's moons. Europa mission wd [sic] be cool."

Of course, today, he's ruling out use of astronauts, saying he "wouldn't recommend transporting astronauts beyond Earth-moon region. Wouldn't be fun for longer journeys. Internal volume size of SUV." Tomorrow, a single tweet could change everything.