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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 Just Tom on 3/11/2014 3:37:27 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is in order to spend money government needs to take it from someone else. This can be done either through direct taxes or inflating the money supply. Sometimes government spends money in productive ways - maintaining order, building highways, protecting trade routes - and there is indeed a net economic effect. However, I believe, and you are free to disagree, that for the most part we are way beyond effective and productive government spending. The money taken by the government would be more effectively spent by individuals rather than the government.

RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By pandemonium on 3/12/2014 5:41:29 AM , Rating: 2
What you're suggesting is a revolution and I don't think anyone would agree to the anarchy that would follow that transition. Actually, if that were to happen I'd be moving out of this country pretty quickly.

We have to take steps in the right direction somewhere, or else we're just backpedaling - even if those steps seem insignificant.

By Just Tom on 3/12/2014 3:19:45 PM , Rating: 2
Anarchy? Revolution? It is the government spending less money. Do you really think if, just to pick a number, the government cut 10% across the board there would be anarchy and revolution? If so how come there was no such anarchy just a few scant years ago when we were spending much less.

The simple fact is government spending is going to be cut. The question is when and by how much. The sooner the cutting starts the smaller the cuts need to be.

"If you mod me down, I will become more insightful than you can possibly imagine." -- Slashdot

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