This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light, in this handout image provided by NASA. It may not be space debris, errant asteroids, supply shortages, thruster malfunctions or even the malevolent aliens envisioned in so many Hollywood films that thwart astronauts on any mission to Mars. It may be the ubiquitous galactic cosmic rays. Researchers said on May 1, 2015 long-term exposure to these rays that permeate space may cause dementia-like cognitive impairments in astronauts during any future round-trip Mars trip, expected to take at least 2-1/2 years. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout 
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May 1, 2017

It’s here: NASA unveils plan to send astronauts to Mars

It’s been common knowledge that NASA has wanted to send astronauts to Mars within the next two decades, but those proposals have been long on ambition and short on details – until now, as the US space agency has unveiled its five-step plan to send humans to the Red Planet.

In a new report issued a little over a month since President Donald Trump signed a new law that mandated NASA to send a crewed space flight to Mars by the year 2033, the agency has issued a new report detailing exactly how they plan to accomplish those goals, according to Futurism.

“NASA is leading the next steps into deep space near the moon, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars,” officials from the agency explained recently in a statement.

Currently, the plan is in what the report refers to as Phase 0: using the International Space Station (ISS) to conduct research and test technology designed to solve problems associated with deep space flight, and during which partnerships with private space firms are finalized.

Next year will mark the start of Phase 1, which will last through 2025 and will include the testing of six Space Launch System (SLS) rockets, the website noted. Those spacecraft will also be used to deliver components of a new space station that will be constructed in orbit around the moon.

New moon base, tube-like transport system to be developed

That space station, the Deep Space Gateway, will be smaller than the ISS and will likely be made from one of six different deep space habitat concepts currently being studied at NASA, explained Ars Technica. The first of three SLS launches required to fully assemble the DSG, which will not be populated year-round but will be maintained by astronauts, is scheduled for 2023.

After the DSG is complete and Phase 1 concludes in 2025, Phase 2 will begin with the launching of the Deep Space Transport (DST) tube towards the lunar station in 2027. The tube will be used to transport astronauts from the DSG to Mars, and in either 2028 or 2029, it will launch a crew to Mars – a journey which ScienceAlert noted will take about three years.

Furthermore, the website pointed out that the crew would be trapped in the tiny, tube-like craft for the entire 400-plus day trip, with no chance of escape should something go wrong, and they wouldn’t even get to step foot on Mars, as the proposed mission would not attempt to land. That part of the project will be reserved for Phases 3 and 4, the NASA report explained.

“To achieve the agency’s goal to extend humanity’s presence in the solar system will require the best research, technologies, and capabilities from international partners and the private sector,” the agency said. “The gateway and transport could potentially support mission after mission as a hub of activity in deep space near the moon, representing multiple countries and agencies with partners from both government and private industry.”

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Image credit: NASA