NASA has confirmed that SpaceX is making changes to their previously announced timeline for a manned mission to Mars. Jim Green, head of the agency’s planetary science division, acknowledged that NASA had been informed that Red Dragon was being put “on the back burner.”
SpaceX was originally planning to make the journey to Mars in 2018, with NASA providing assistance with regards to navigation and communications as part of a Space Act Agreement between the two organizations. “We’d agreed to navigate to Mars, get [Elon Musk] to the top of the atmosphere, and then it was up to him to land,” said Green.
Initially, Red Dragon was expected to use a propulsion landing system to make its controlled descent onto the surface of Mars. However, when SpaceX confirmed in July 2017 that the craft would no longer have these capabilities, many observers wondered whether the Mars mission might miss its launch date.
Back in June, Musk teased major changes to SpaceX’s mission to Mars, noting that updates could arrive as soon as September, so the expedition likely isn’t off the table entirely. What’s more, the CEO just revealed the space suits his company is developing for NASA, so that relationship seems to be as strong as ever.
Getting to Mars is no small feat, but even if SpaceX has to amend their course, the Red Planet appears to still be a big priority.