Nasa wants to send a human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and to see first astronauts setting foot on Mars in the 2030s. The agency has reported on the progress of its Mars exploration roadmap during an event held in Washington on Tuesday.
High-profile Nasa officials headed by administrator Charles Bolden provided latest updates on the progress of the technology development needed and the steps required to reach the next frontier – the Red Planet.
Earlier this year, Nasa supported the extension of the operations of the International Space Station until at least 2024. Having a fleet of privately operated vehicles servicing the station, Nasa wants to focus its research and development powers on deep space exploration technology, using the ISS as a test bed for verifying concepts and testing technology and communication systems.
SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are already delivering cargo to the station and Nasa believes the companies will be able to provide domestic launch services for astronauts by 2017. Since the Space Shuttle retirement in 2011, Nasa has been dependent on buying seats on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, to ferry astronauts to the ISS.
Speaking during the event, Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden said progress on the Space Launch System – the most powerful launch system ever flown – is continuously being made. The Orion space capsule that will carry astronauts towards the yet unexplored areas of the solar system will undergo heat shield testing later this year and the supersonic re-entry system is ready for stratospheric trials in June.
An earlier version of the Space Launch System will be used for a 2025 manned mission that will try to capture an asteroid and bring it in the Moon’s orbit. Astronauts will explore the redirected asteroid and deliver soil samples to Earth.
Testing of the Space Launch System is scheduled for 2017 and manufacturing of the rocket’s flight hardware should commence soon.
Missions in the 2020s will help to fine-tune and test technology needed for the voyage to Mars, including solar electric propulsion that is expected to be used for cargo delivery to Mars.