SpaceX has been teasing a mission to Mars for quite a while now (after all, their founder Elon Musk openly announced that's his goal), but they are now discussing a concrete date. They plan to land something on the surface of Mars as early as 2018.
Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come pic.twitter.com/u4nbVUNCpA
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
The announcement is especially intriguing, because it implies a significant overhaul to the Dragon shuttles, in order to make them withstand the rough conditions on Mars.
SpaceX returned with details, confirming that they're preparing an uncrewed flight, with the purpose of seeing how difficult it is for them to send big cargos to the Red Planet. This means that the goal in their sight is actually building something on Mars, otherwise you wouldn't need such a big cargo.
Elon Musk did previously discuss plans to build a "city" on Mars, but not many details were presented so we're left with not much concrete information. But the exciting thing is that these "Red Dragons" are likely a key point of any mission of this type, and they will provide the backbone for a Martian construction.
This project is part of a public-private partnership contract between NASA and SpaceX, which is a "no-exchange-of-funds" agreement. Basically, NASA will offer technical support in exchange for Martian entry, descent, and landing data from SpaceX.