By most measures, SpaceX has enjoyed a banner 2016. In the first half of this year, the company took critical steps toward proving it can reliably retrieve and reuse its first-stage rocket boosters, successfully landing rockets on a floating drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean three separate times. It broke a monopoly one of its chief competitors held on U.S. military satellite launches. It spelled out plans to significantly boost the frequency with which it launches its workhorse Falcon 9 rockets and to vastly expand its capability by flying its larger, more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time.
Each of those developments has implications for SpaceX's core business, but perhaps none stands poised to transform human spaceflight and the larger, commercial-space marketplace quite like the company's announcement in April that it is working with NASA to send an unmanned mission to the surface of Mars as soon as 2018 — a mission that could eventually culminate in the first manned mission to the Red Planet. That historic collaboration could see a private company — rather than a government agency — spearhead the exploration of a celestial body for the first time.