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blast off

Elon Musk unveils the Dragon V2 spaceship, which could take astronauts into orbit by 2017

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Late Thursday, SpaceX and its founder, billionaire Elon Musk, unveiled the Dragon V2 spaceship. The Dragon V2 is vying to be one of the first U.S.-built spaceships to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. SpaceX and two competitors, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corp., are each getting more than $1 billion from NASA to create a shuttle replacement, and NASA is expected to announce sometime over the next few months which projects will have an actual spaceflight around the year 2017.

For the past two years, Dragon cargo capsules have been going up to the International Space Station, but those spacecraft are not made to carry people. If launch abort tests go well, Musk believes the Dragon V2's first flight in orbit (minus a crew) might happen in 2015, and a version with actual test pilots could follow in 2016. Musk doesn't plan on stopping at the ISS, though. As NBC News reports, he believes sending colonists to Mars is "where things need to go in the long term."

You can watch Musk's showman-like unveiling:

Or just check out some photos of the Dragon V2.--Catherine Garcia