Just when you thought Elon Musk couldn't possibly aim any higher, the billionaire tech magnate's private space company unveiled plans Wednesday to begin sending Dragon spacecrafts to Mars by 2018.
SpaceX told The Huffington Post the upcoming missions -- dubbed with the project name Red Dragon -- will test propulsion technologies required to land large payloads on the red planet and provide information for its Mars colonization architecture, which the company plans to make public later this year.
Wednesday's announcement on Twitter comes just weeks after SpaceX pulled off a nearly impossible at-sea landing of its rocket booster -- a technological milestone that set the space community abuzz.
SpaceX says the unmanned Dragon spaceships will be carried to Mars aboard Falcon Heavy, a beefed-up version of its Falcon 9 booster capable of lifting the equivalent of a loaded 737 jetliner into orbit.
In addition to Falcon Heavy, slated to begin flying later this year, the company is working to develop its Dragon Version 2 spacecraft, capable of carrying a crew of seven.
“Either we spread earth to other planets, or we risk going extinct,” he said at a conference in May 2013. “An extinction event is inevitable and we’re increasingly doing ourselves in.”
In a blog post Wednesday, NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said the agency is "particularly excited" about the upcoming SpaceX program.
"In exchange for Martian entry, descent, and landing data from SpaceX, NASA will offer technical support for the firm’s plan to attempt to land an uncrewed Dragon 2 spacecraft on Mars," Newman wrote. "As the saying goes, 'spaceflight is hard.' Sending astronauts to Mars, which will be one of the greatest feats of human innovation in the history of civilization, carries with it many, many puzzles to piece together."