We are closer than ever to crewed Mars mission, NASA chief says

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says that the space agency is closer than ever before to launching a manned mission to the Red Planet.

NASA/JPL
Mars as seen by NASA's Viking mission.

NASA is closer to putting boots on Mars than it's ever been before, the space agency's chief says.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle commander, said he envisioned becoming the first person to explore Mars when he checked in for astronaut training at Houston's Johnson Space Center in 1980.

Back then, a crewed Red Planet mission was believed to be 30 years away, Bolden said. That proved to be an overly optimistic assessment, of course. But NASA's current goal of getting astronauts to Mars in the 2030s is eminently achievable, Bolden added. [5 Manned Mission to Mars Ideas

"We are farther down the path to sending humans to Mars than at any point in NASA's history," Bolden said Thursday (Sept. 17) during an event at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. that detailed NASA's manned Mars plans.

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary science division, also took part in the discussion, which was webcast live on NASA TV. So did a number of NASA researchers, as well as Andy Weir, author of the sci-fi novel "The Martian," which has been made into a movie starring Matt Damon that opens on Oct. 2.

"We have a lot of work to do to get humans to Mars, but we'll get there," Bolden said.

Some of this work includes developing a capsule called Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket to help get astronauts to deep-space destinations. Orion and the SLS are scheduled to fly together for the first time, on an unmanned test flight, in 2018.

Newman cited the fact that astronauts recently grew (and ate) lettuce on the International Space Station, as part of an experiment designed to better understand the production of food crops away from Earth.

Furthermore, two crewmembers on the orbiting lab — NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko — are halfway through an unpredecented yearlong mission that is characterizing the pyschological and physiological effects of long-duration spaceflight. Such work should inform planning for crewed Red Planet missions, which could take astronauts away from Earth for 500 days or more, NASA officials have said.

Newman also mentioned the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), one of seven science instruments that NASA's next Mars rover will carry toward the Red Planet when it blasts off in 2020.

MOXIE will pull carbon dioxide from the thin Martian atmosphere and turn it into pure oxygen and carbon monoxide, demonstrating technology that could keep settlers alive on the Red Planet — and help them blast off the surface when it's time to go home. (Oxygen can be used as an oxidizer, helping to burn rocket fuel.)  

"We're going to make oxygen on another planet — the first time ever to make oxygen on another planet," Newman said. "These experiments — they're real, they're here."

Such work is being done in service of an epic and monumental goal.

"[Putting] boots on Mars is possibly the most exciting thing humans will ever do," Bolden said.

"We have been engaged in getting to Mars — getting humans to Mars — for at least 40 years, beginning with the first precursors," he added. "I have no doubt that we can accomplish what we have set our minds to do."

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook orGoogle+. Originally published on Space.com.

Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.