A manned mission to Mars. It’s the ultimate achievement space agencies, and private space companies are working towards. We’re still a long ways off from the putting the first boots on the red planet, but SpaceX announced the start of their journey today.

SpaceX is targeting a 2018 date for sending a Dragon capsule to Mars.

Elon Musk followed SpaceX’s tweet with a couple of his own.

What would a Mars landing look like?

First, Dragon won’t be carrying people to Mars anytime soon. The craft is much too small for such a long journey. It’s designed to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. A trip from Earth to the ISS takes about six hours. I’m sure astronauts are ready to stretch their legs out after just that long. Imagine a trip to Mars in something the size of the Dragon?

Last year, SpaceX released several renders of what a Mars landing might look like.

Here’s the Dragon streaking through the Martian atmosphere.

SpaceX dragon entering Mars atmosphere

And, a look at the thrusters used to land softly on the desolate surface.

SpaceX dragon landing on Mars

What you’re looking at is a concept of eight SuperDraco engines firing just before reaching the ground to safely land.

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Let’s go from concept to reality. Here’s SpaceX testing the eight thrusters back in November.

Did You Know: These same SuperDraco engines are also used as a safety measure at launch. If something goes wrong right after launch, the engines fire and carry the Dragon capsule away from the rocket.

The road to Mars is long

You can’t fault SpaceX for being ambitious, but the road to sending Dragon to Mars is long. The private space company still hasn’t flown its Falcon Heavy Rocket. Right now, the first flight is scheduled for November – but it would surprise no one if that launch ended up being slightly delayed.

SpaceX also needs to prove the Dragon capsule can land successfully. A test of this is being planned with a returning capsule from the ISS, but no date has been announced yet.

Still, SpaceX’s ambition is why we love them. They’re never afraid to push the envelope. If they fail, they try again. Who thought the first stage of a rocket could land on a platform in the ocean? SpaceX did, and they finally nailed it after multiple tries.

It’s not a matter of if SpaceX will reach Mars, it’s when. 2018 is their target today. We’ll see how all the tests go over the next two years. We do know one thing. It’s never wise to bet against Elon Musk’s companies.

The next SpaceX launch

No specific date has been set yet, but SpaceX plans to launch the JCSAT-14 communications satellite in early May. Another ocean landing will be attempted on the ‘Of Course I still Love You’ drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. They nailed the last one.

SpaceX Nabs Second Crew Mission to International Space Station

Let’s see if they can make it two in a row.

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