It’s official: humans are going to Mars.
You likely already knew that, considering the fact that there has been so much attention given to the people who have volunteered to live out the rest of their lives on Mars, but new details have now been released by NASA that make the entire unbelievable mission that much closer to reality.
On Thursday, NASA released a lengthy report entitled “NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration.” In it, NASA outlines the next steps in the process of settling Mars, and what we can expect over the coming years.
The report makes clear that sending men to Mars is a huge accomplishment both for mankind and for the United States, an obvious truth. But the report also acknowledges the long-term challenges the mission will face.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said:
“NASA is closer to sending American astronauts to Mars than at any point in our history. Today, we are publishing additional details about our journey to Mars plan and how we are aligning all of our work in support of this goal. In the coming weeks, I look forward to continuing to discuss the details of our plan with members of Congress, as well as our commercial and our international and partners, many of whom will be attending the International Astronautical Congress next week.”
These “details” include the crossing of three thresholds on our way to Mars: “Earth Reliant,” “Proving Ground,” and “Earth Independent.” The report sums up these three incremental steps of the process.
Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research aboard the International Space Station. From this world-class microgravity laboratory, we are testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep space, long duration missions.
In the Proving Ground, NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days. Primarily operating in cislunar space—the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple possible stable staging orbits for future deep space missions—NASA will advance and validate capabilities required for humans to live and work at distances much farther away from our home planet, such as at Mars.
Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface. Future Mars missions will represent a collaborative effort between NASA and its partners—a global achievement that marks a transition in humanity’s expansion as we go to Mars to seek the potential for sustainable life beyond Earth.
“Beyond Earth” is the key phrase of this entire project. We’re not just going to Mars to prove we can; rather, this entire mission is meant to be able to expand the reach of humanity, and change the way mankind lives. Is it ridiculous to believe that many thousands of years in the future, people like us will be traveling among the planets and living on each as if they were separate countries? Is Star Wars that far-fetched?
This is the first step, it seems. The entire mission will take at least two decades.
William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, has spoken about the future of having “a sustainable human presence in deep space.” To have a sustainable presence in space, NASA evolved the above strategy to deal with any variables like “budgetary changes, political priorities, new scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, and evolving partnerships.” So, no matter what’s happening on earth, NASA will continue to work toward this goal.
Mars is closer on the horizon than ever before.