SpaceX and NASA Are Looking for Places to Land on Mars

March 22, 2017, 5:25 PM UTC

SpaceX, the aerospace company led by Elon Musk, is working with NASA scientists to locate possible landing sites on Mars.

Paul Wooster, who manages the guidance, navigation, and control systems on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, said during a presentation at MicroSymposium 58 earlier this month that the landing sites were for both its Red Dragon spacecraft as well as future human missions, SpaceNews reported.

Musk founded SpaceX to lower the cost of space travel with the eventual goal of colonizing Mars.

The symposium program, held in Woodland, Texas ahead of the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference there, focused on surface exploration and sample return. Wooster’s talk on SpaceX’s plans was followed by a presentation by NASA on landing sites and exploration zones for human missions to Mars. One site looks promising, Wooster said.

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NASA and SpaceX are narrowing down sites based on certain criteria, including access to ice near the surface, which would be used to support humans who settle on the planet, according to remarks reported by SpaceNews.

SpaceX recently completed its 10th cargo flight with NASA. The company’s Dragon spacecraft was deployed on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and delivered supplies and scientific experiments to the International Space Station for NASA.

SpaceX’s intention to get to Mars is hardly secret. Last year, the company tweeted its plans to send Dragon to Mars as early as 2018. But the collaboration provides a glimpse at the company’s progress.

The planned Mars spacecraft will be called Red Dragon.

SpaceX announced last month it plans to send to private citizens in a crewed Dragon in a trip around the moon next year—an important step towards the company’s ultimate goal. Dragon currently carries cargo to space. However, the spacecraft was designed from the outset to carry humans. SpaceX through an agreement with NASA is working on the Dragon to enable it to fly crew.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump signed a bill that updates NASA’s mission to include exploration on Mars. However, Musk says the bill won’t help accelerate the timeline to get to Mars.

Musk, responding to a journalist Kara Swisher’s tweet, said the bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. “Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars,” he wrote, later adding “Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it.”