We’re probably going to send humans to Mars one day. Promise. NASA is currently looking at going at some point in the 2030s.
But exactly how they’re going to get there has been uncertain. Recently, the agency has been suggesting that they might first send humans near to the Moon, known as cislunar space, before making the eight-month trek to the Red Planet.
At the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington DC yesterday, that was seemingly confirmed. According to Space.com, NASA's Greg Williams from the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate confirmed as such, with a crew to spend a year near the Moon.
The mission would take place in the late 2020s, and would represent an opportunity for NASA to test out its eventual spacecraft for the mission to Mars, the Deep Space Transport.
"If we could conduct a yearlong crewed mission on this Deep Space Transport in cislunar space, we believe we will know enough that we could then send this thing, crewed, on a 1,000-day mission to the Mars system and back," he said.
We don’t know exactly what this is yet. But NASA’s plan is to have it dock with a gateway space station in lunar orbit. While here, astronauts will go out on multi-day excursions, testing out the spacecraft before it attempts the full trip to Mars.
The plan is for four crewed launches between 2018 and 2026 to deliver the various components of this station to space. These include a habitat, a module for scientific research, and an airlock. There would be an uncrewed flight in 2027 to send the Deep Space Habitat, and a crew would then fly to it before 2030 and spend a year there.
This is all dependent on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), getting up and running soon. Unfortunately, part of the rocket was damaged earlier this week, suggesting the inaugural launch in 2018 might have to be pushed back. It’s not clear yet if this will hamper NASA’s plans or not.
What’s clear, though, is that there is fairly significant work being done on how to eventually get humans to Mars. With NASA due to retire from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024 or 2028, there will soon be additional funds freed up for space exploration. With most of the focus seemingly on Mars, the idea of getting there in the 2030s doesn’t seem too far-fetched.