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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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By delphinus100 on 3/10/2014 6:31:17 PM , Rating: 2
For half a penny more we might be able to fund some real space missions. Half a penny! (to quote Tyson)...

First understanding that the NASA budget is about one half cent of your tax dollar, you're proposing doubling its budget.

What exactly does that mean? How is it to be spent?

Does every department and project in the agency get twice what it currently does, right down to the janitor's pay? Some of them are doing fine, and more would only encourage waste.

Some of them could use more, but not twice as much. (Commercial Crew could use twice as much, considering that it has generally been allocated about half of what was requested...but even that should receive no more than a doubling.)

Some projects (*cough* SLS *cough*) are not a good idea at any price. Throwing more money at bad policy won't make it good policy. But watch and see if in your scenario, Space Launch System supporters won't try to grab more than their portion of this 'one penny' budget...and still not move an operational date any closer.

You want new starts? New programs? Prepare for the usual fight over who gets approved at all, and which of those gets how much. More money only changes the size of the fight, it doesn't go away.

The devil, as always, is in the details. NASA's problem isn't money, it's policy.

Oh, and...

But instead, we're stuck with this?

If Red Dragon works, what exactly is wrong with 'this?' Are you more interested in means, or results?

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad

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