Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to land an unmanned spacecraft on Mars as soon as 2018 with the help of NASA, an extraordinary collaboration between the public and private sectors in an effort to eventually get humans to the Red Planet.
SpaceX made the announcement on Twitter Wednesday, laying out an ambitious timeline for an incredibly difficult mission that only governments have dared try. Landing a spacecraft or a robot that can then operate successfully on the Martian surface is so difficult that the U.S. is the only country to have done it, and many attempts over the years have failed
The partnership between SpaceX and NASA, which has the goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s, is yet another example of the significant shift in the role NASA is playing in space exploration. While it continues to pursue its own deep space missions, the agency has also spent years, and billions of dollars, helping to support a robust commercial space industry, which it is increasingly partnering with to develop the technologies to explore the cosmos.