That NASA has aspirations for a manned mission to the Red Planet is already well known, but the space agency has now revealed in greater detail how it plans to make such a mission reality. In a document titled "NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration," the expedition is broken down into three separate phases, painting a picture of the incremental scientific advances needed to land humans on the Martian surface.
"NASA’s strategy connects near-term activities and capability development to the journey to Mars and a future with a sustainable human presence in deep space," says William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters.
The first of NASA's steps to Mars falls under the title "Earth Reliant," and centers on research to be carried out on the International Space Station (ISS). In this microgravity test-bed, the agency will continue developing technologies aimed at improving human health to prepare for manned missions to deep space.
In the second stage, NASA will carry out manned missions in cislunar-space, that is the area between the Earth and the Moon or the Moon's orbit. Dubbed "Proving Ground," this phase will entail developing and validating capabilities required to allow humans to live in environments further away from our home planet, such as on a certain dusty, red planet.
The third and final stage, called "Earth Independence," is intended to capitalize on the advances in the previous steps to bring humans to the Mars vicinity, first to low-Mars orbit and possibly one of the planet's moons, and then to touch down on the surface.
Together, the phases are intended to address three hurdles NASA sees as fundamental in getting to Mars: transportation (the ability for humans and cargo to safely travel into deep space), working in space (so crew members and robots can be productive once they get there) and staying healthy (for survival). The agency will discuss the plan with congress and partners in the coming weeks.
The entire Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration document can be read online here.