SpaceX plans Mars mission for 2018

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SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Friday afternoon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, sending the Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.

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NEW YORK — SpaceX’s first mission to Mars could be less than two years away.

The space exploration company — headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk — tweeted Wednesday that it plans to put an unmanned spacecraft on Mars “as soon as 2018.”

That’s the latest update to SpaceX’s plans for Mars after Musk said in January that he wants to send the first humans to Mars sometime “around 2025.”

The Tweet indicates that SpaceX plans to make good on a mission first proposed last year: To send a modified version of its Dragon spacecraft, called a Red Dragon, to survey the terrain on Mars and potentially collect soil samples.

That would be a big step toward SpaceX’s overall goal — to put a colony of people on The Red Planet.

“It’s the only planet we really have a shot at establishing a self-sustaining city on,” Musk said in January, when he announced he aims to send the first humans to Mars within a decade.

These are bold ambitions, particularly for a private company. Commercial spacecrafts have yet to reach the moon, though SpaceX is planning a lunar mission for next year.

SpaceIL — a competitor in the Google Lunar XPrize’s $30 million race to put the first commercial spacecraft on the moon — plans to send its lunar lander to the moon on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket sometime in 2017.

SpaceX said to expect more details about its Mars mission soon.

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