On Thursday, NASA released a three-step plan to bring humans to Mars sometime in 2030. It's simple! Sort of.
In a report outlining the plan, the space agency did not hesitate to classify this as a colonial mission. "Like the Apollo Program, we embark on this journey for all humanity," NASA noted, adding, "Unlike Apollo,we will be going to stay… We are developing the capabilities necessary to get there, land there, and live there."
The agency's recent confirmation that there is liquid water on Mars is a good thing for those who want to set up camp on the red planet, but it doesn't mean living on Mars will be easy. For one thing, the water is not drinkable—scientists will still need to figure out a way to use it as a resource that could support life. For another, the challenges that make a hypothetical journey to Mars so dangerous, like sustained exposure to dangerous radiation, remain.
But NASA isn't stepping away from the goal of a manned mission, and it sees three phases on the path to achieving it. The first phase, where we are now, is described by NASA as "Earth Reliant." Per the agency:
Earth Reliant exploration is focused on research aboard the ISS. On the space station, we are testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep-space, long-duration missions.
This, the agency explains, includes developing and testing communication systems, researching human health, investigating life support systems for Mars, 3D printing and more.
The next phase, "Proving Ground," is when "NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days." NASA explains that most of these missions—the first of which is set to launch in 2018—will take place in "cislunar space," or somewhere between the Earth and the Moon. This "Proving Ground" step includes the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission, slated for 2020, which will allow astronauts to test material from a near-Earth asteroid, and developing ways to cut down on resupply missions.
The final phase, "Earth Independent," is when NASA hopes to put humans on Mars. From the report:
Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on ISS and in cislunar space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, including the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface.
Once on Mars, the plan is to: "harvest Martian resources to create fuel, water, oxygen and building materials," and "leveraging advanced communication systems to relay data and results from science and exploration excursions with a 20-minute delay ."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.