NASA'S Journey to Mars consists of three phases,and two of them have already begun.The first phase is the Earth Reliant.It runs from today to the mid-2020s,and is centered on the International Space Station,which operates through 2024.The ISS,NASA says,is a world-class test bed for the technologies and communications systems needed for human missions to deep space.The astronauts are ascertaining what it takes to live and work in space for extended periods.In particular,NASA wants to know how the body changes over time in the harsh environment of space and how to protect astronaut health.*
Besides this quest for knowledge,we are working with our commercial crew and cargo partners on providing access to Low Earth Orbit and eventually stimulate new economic activity,allowing NASA to continue using the station while preparing for deep space missions.*
The second phase,Proving Ground,runs from 2018-30.There will be regular crewed missions and spacewalks in cislunar space,or lunar orbit.Their goal is to verify deep space habitation.Three of these crewed cislunar missions have been mentioned so far.Before them,in November 2018,the uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 will go 40,000 miles beyond the Moon on an approximately three-week mission to test the new Space Launch System rocket and European Service Module for the Orion spacecraft.In the 2021-23 time frame,EM-1 will be basically replicated by the first crewed mission of the Orion programme,EM-2,which will set a new record for distance traveled from Earth on a human spaceflight.There will also be an Asteroid Redirect Mission culminating in the mid-2020s that will test deep spacewalking and sampling techniques;along with Solar Electric Propulsion,which will be used to deliver substantial cargo for human missions to Mars;and a planetary security manoeuvre,the gravity tractor experiment,that will test a technique which may be able to deflect an asteroid getting too close to Earth.Finally in the 2020s will be a year-long mission to validate readiness for the Mars mission.*
The third phase of the Journey to Mars plan is the Earth Independent,running from now to the early 2030s.Mars rovers are already studying potential Exploration Zones for compelling scientific research sites and resources our astronauts could possibly use.The next rover goes up in 2020;a round-trip robotic sample return mission is planned for the late 2020s.A mission to send humans into Low Mars Orbit is envisioned for the early 2030s.
This phase will test the entry,descent and landing techniques needed to get humans to the surface of the red planet and study what's needed for in-situ resource utilisation.NASA is confident we are well on the way to getting there,landing there,and living there.