Journey to Mars - NASA Releases New Plan

NASA Releases Plan Outlining Next Steps in the Journey to Mars

Is it finally time?

Sending people to Mars has been a dream for a long time, but this last Thursday, October 8, NASA released a detailed outline of their plan to put send astronauts to Mars in the 2030's. They call it...

NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration

NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced the plan, saying:

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.

The plan consists of three main parts, each progressively more difficult and challenging.  The first step is already underway:  using the International Space Station to test technologies and study human health issues that will enable deep space, long duration mission.

Related: 10 'Must Have' Technologies for Settling Mars​

NASA's Journey to Mars

Step 1: Earth Reliant Exploration​

The International Space Station orbits just 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth's and is regularly resupplied by robotic cargo ships. In addition, there are escape vehicles that can bring the astronauts home quickly in an emergency.

​Travelers to Mars won't have that luxury.

In an journey to Mars, astronauts will have to much more independent and self sufficient. And that;s what the second step on NASA's plan is all about.

​Step 2: Proving Ground

In the Proving Ground, NASA wants to gain deep-space experience in and around the moon through a series of missions over the next decade or so. Their goal is to:

advance and validate capabilities required for humans to live and work at distances much farther away from our home planet, such as at Mars.

​One such mission is the Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM, which will use solar-electric propulsion to grab a nearby asteroid and haul it into lunar orbit where it can then be visited by astronauts.

NASA considers Solar-electric Propulsion​ (SEP)to be a key technology for reaching Mars, so this step is considered to be an incredibly important part of the entire program.

​The Proving ground missions are meant to validate transportation and habitation capabilities as well as develop and refine new methods that will reduce reliance on Earth while still staying productive.

Journey to Mars

Step 3: Mars

Sending astronauts to Mars is the third stage of the plan. This ambitious goal will be enabled by international cooperation, the knowledge and expertise gained by human missions to the space station and the proving ground, and by all the data gathered by robotic Red Planet explorers, according to the new report.

NASA calls this step on their Journey to Mars the Earth Independent Activities stage.

In this step , NASA will build on what they learn on the space station and around the moon to send crewed missions to Mars, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, Phobos or Deimos.  Eventually, astronauts will be sent to the surface. 

William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters, put it this way:​

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.  This strategy charts a course toward horizon goals, while delivering near-term benefits, and defining a resilient architecture that can accommodate budgetary changes, political priorities, new scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, and evolving partnerships.


Living and working in space are full of risks —but the journey to Mars is worth it. To meet the challenges, NASA has committed themselves to a  new and powerful space transportation system, the SLS.  But they acknowledge they will also need to learn new ways of operating in space .

What are the challenges?

NASA puts them in three categories:

  • transportation, sending humans and cargo through space efficiently, safely, and reliably;
  • working in space, enabling productive operations for crew and robotic systems; and
  • staying healthy, developing habitation systems that provide safe, healthy, and sustainable human exploration. 

As the report states:

​There are challenges to pioneering Mars, but we know they are solvable.  We are developing the capabilities necessary to get there, land there, and live there.

You can download the complete NASA Journey to Mars report for free at:

And to learn more about NASA’s journey to Mars, including the agency’s latest scientific exploration of the Red Planet, you can also visit:

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