According to NASA, they are developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s — goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy. With the recent discovery of water on Mars, this goal seems to be within reach, more now than ever before.
“Mars is a rich destination for scientific discovery and robotic and human exploration as we expand our presence into the solar system. Its formation and evolution are comparable to Earth, helping us learn more about our own planet’s history and future. Mars had conditions suitable for life in its past. Future exploration could uncover evidence of life, answering one of the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos: Does life exist beyond Earth?” — NASA
Robotic explorers have studied Mars for more than 40 years, so what has taken so long to take this next step? NASA’s path for the human exploration of Mars begins in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts on the orbiting laboratory are going to help them prove many of the technologies and communications systems they will need for human missions to deep space, including Mars. ISS also advances their understanding of how the body changes in space and how to protect astronauts.
NASA’s next step is deep space, where they will send a robotic mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon (wait, they can do that?). Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, eventually returning to Earth with samples. This experience will help NASA test new systems and capabilities, such as Solar Electric Propulsion, which is what they’ll need to send cargo to Mars as a part of human missions.
A fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers are already on Mars, dramatically increasing NASA’s knowledge about the Red Planet and paving the way for future human explorers. Engineers and scientists around the country are working hard to develop the technologies astronauts will use to one day live and work on Mars, and safely return home from the next giant leap for humanity.
I only have one question … Where do we sign up?