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This could happen as soon as 2022

NASA wants to analyze some terrain samples from Mars in an effort to answer whether life exists there, but the problem has been transporting such samples from the Red Planet back to Earth. 

But now, it looks as though NASA has found a potential solution: customize a SpaceX Dragon capsule

While this is just a proposal for now and is by no means a planned mission with set funding yet, NASA said that modifying a SpaceX Dragon capsule into a landing craft could be a cost-effective way of bringing Martian samples back to Earth as soon as 2022. 

An internal study at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California revealed that the modified Dragon capsule -- dubbed "Red Dragon" -- would make a direct entry into the atmosphere of Mars and descend to the surface using retro propulsion for a precision touchdown (thanks to SuperDraco rocket engines) instead of a parachute system. 

The study suggests a Red Dragon could land roughly 2 metric tons of useful payload on Mars. A Red Dragon has "several times" the volume of the Viking heritage entry vehicle from the 1970s, and would be equipped to carry a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV), and hardware to transfer samples collected.


From there, the Red Dragon return vehicle would exit the Martian surface, thanks to some help from the MAV, and make its way toward Earth. 

A big plus for Red Dragon is that the mission would not require the transfer of samples from one vehicle to another in Mars orbit.

"The significance of the work is that it opens the door to the efficient achievement of an important planetary science objective at a lower complexity level and, by extension, at potentially lower cost than previously considered," said Andrew Gonzales, leader of the NASA study.

This certainly isn't NASA and SpaceX's first project together. SpaceX -- which is headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk -- flew its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS for the first time back in May 2012 for a test supply run. After that successful trip, SpaceX and NASA signed a $1.6 billion contract that allows SpaceX to complete 12 supply trips to the ISS and back.

In October 2012, the Dragon capsule completed its first official cargo run to the ISS, bringing home 1,673 pounds of cargo. 


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RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Reclaimer77 on 3/10/2014 4:43:46 PM , Rating: 1
I cannot in good conscience support doubling the budget of a Federal agency. Even one such as NASA.

Everyone complains about the budget and the debt and deficits, until it comes to their Sacred Cow. Then oh, yeah, we need to spend more on THAT.

Well I'm perhaps making a radical departure from my Conservative colleagues when I say, no, NASA and everyone else is going to have to to tighter their belts until we turn this debt crisis around.

I will not support any increased spending, not one damn dime, no matter what the cause or what's at stake. Not for a new bomber, not for healthcare, and not for going to Mars. That's it, the line in the sand needs to be drawn somewhere, and I say it's here.

Because none of that is going to matter when the country collapses in a Euro style debt implosion.

By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 4:54:46 PM , Rating: 2
I normally wouldn't, either, being a fiscal conservative myself--but for some strange reason, these days at least, it seems spending will never be reigned under control. So it is more a matter of arguing who gets what (like children that found a bunch of toys that fell off a truck and are fighting over them) than who does the right thing. Because that is basically what our Government is doing to us--stealing from our future.

I'd rather see that stolen money go towards something meaningful like NASA than something stupid like another study on blue wharbler mating habits with Puget Sound sharp-finned trout. Because, you know, in some strange world a hippie will find a way to believe a bird might mate with a fish. We'll never know until we blow untold millions of dollars on it!

At least NASA inspires minds. A bird mating with a fish? Well, we already have enough of that inspiration in the .xxxesque domains.

I was pretty disgusted by that clown president of ours leading into Cosmos last night. Ah well, another discussion for another day. :) (but had to throw it in there as it is relevant to space)

RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By TSS on 3/10/2014 5:35:25 PM , Rating: 1
It's already a mathematical certainty the USA will collapse.

Might as well spend the money you're already going to spend on probably the only thing that still captures the world's imagination.

Not to mention something that could actually boost the economy by opening up a whole new market that doesn't even exist - commercial space travel.

Saying that the line should be drawn here is like being Yosemity Sam saying he won't step over another one of bugs bunny's lines while being halfway to the otherside of the grand canyon already. And that's no analogy either, litteraly the only reason why the economy is still going is because colectively everybody decided we won't fall as long as we don't look down.

By JediJeb on 3/10/2014 6:03:01 PM , Rating: 2
Might as well spend the money you're already going to spend on probably the only thing that still captures the world's imagination.

Is that sports or reality shows? Doesn't seem to be science or space these days.

RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By geddarkstorm on 3/10/2014 9:14:25 PM , Rating: 2
I personally would be interested to hear what you see that gives you that gloom outcome.

By boeush on 3/14/2014 6:28:17 PM , Rating: 2
Here, have a read:

It's long, but it'll open your eyes...

By sorry dog on 3/11/2014 3:33:54 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't say it's a certainty but there are some F shaped or logrithmic poisson distrubutions that would describe the country's chances for severe social disruptions rather well.

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