By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - SpaceX plans to send an unmanned Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018, the company said on Wednesday, a first step in achieving founder Elon Musk’s goal to fly people to another planet.
The program, known as Red Dragon, is intended to develop the technologies needed for human transportation to Mars, a long-term goal for Musk's privately held Space Exploration Technologies, as well as the U.S. space agency NASA.
"Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system," Musk posted on Twitter. "Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight."
The announcement marks the first time SpaceX has targeted a date for its unmanned mission to Mars, company spokeswoman Emily Shanklin wrote in an email to Reuters.
The company said it will provide details of its Mars program at the International Astronautical Congress in September.
Musk started SpaceX, as the company is known, in 2002 with the goal of slashing launch costs to make Mars travel affordable. SpaceX intends to debut its Mars rocket, a heavy-lift version of the Falcon 9 booster currently flying, before the end of the year.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Letitia Stein and Bill Trott)