What is NASA's Part in SpaceX Red Dragon MIssion to Mars?
Elon Musk is determined to reach Mars as early as 2018. SpaceX already exhibited its capability to do so with powerful rockets and successful launches and re-entries from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS) and back. NASA is almost always dragged into the success of SpaceX, so what could be NASA's exact role in SpaceX mission to Mars? While some reports say NASA is helping SpaceX reach the red planet, others argue that the space agency's role is very limited.
In 2018, SpaceX is supposed to launch the Red Dragon mission, an unmanned flight to Mars. Musk plans to land the upgraded Dragon version to the surface of the red planet using a new technology called "supersonic retro propulsion." NASA will play a "critical" role for the mission to succeed, reports say.
NASA's director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, discussed what's included in the partnership between SpaceX and the agency in a teleconference. For one, NASA and SpaceX have been partners. NASA is using SpaceX' cargo rockets to deliver goods to the International Space Station (ISS) during resupply missions while Musk has always expressed his ambition to colonize Mars and has sought the help of NASA to achieve that.
"[SpaceX] realized they could really utilize and benefit from an expanded level of assistance from NASA," McAlister said in a teleconference. "We're kind of like a consultant to SpaceX. We're providing very specific areas of expertise, McAlister added.
In return, NASA will get access to the data that will be gathered by the Red Dragon from lift-off until its mission to Mars.The NASA official did not dispel the possibility of the mission's failure, saying that he believes it's a good investment and recognizes its potential to succeed.
However, McAlister himself said that NASA's role is also very limited. Some say that NASA will play a very small role in SpaceX mission to Mars. It will only entail the sharing of expertise, input and advise from NASA engineers that will enable SpaceX to enhance and develop the technology that will get them to Mars. This may be because SpaceX might eventually seek "more independence" from NASA in future Mars missions. Nevertheless, NASA won't have full insight into the overall mission but will be entitled to data that is otherwise unavailable to the agency without SpaceX, according to a report.
So whether people are looking at the extent of NASA's participation as too small or a big role, there's no denying that NASA and SpaceX will both benefit from their mutual partnership.
Furthermore, if a mission to Mars succeeds, it will be a milestone not only for SpaceX but for all of mankind. The SpaceX Red Dragon unmanned mission is already slated for launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base as early as May 2018.