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May 12, 2017

NASA’s Mars plans include a one-year mission to the Moon

Before sending a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, NASA may have a group of astronauts spend a year in orbit around the moon, officials from the space agency’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate revealed earlier this week at an event in Washington DC.

Speaking at the Human to Mars Summit on Tuesday, deputy associate administrator for policy and plans Greg Williams revealed that NASA would be taking a two-step approach to sending a manned mission to the Red Planet, according to Space.com and Engadget reports.

Earlier this month, the agency revealed plans to build a new space station in cislunar orbit. That facility, known as the Deep Space Gateway, will be smaller than the International Space Station (ISS) and will be created from one of six deep space habitat concepts currently in development.

During his Tuesday presentation, Williams shed new light on NASA’s plans for the near term. As part of the first phase of the agency’s two-phase approach, they will launch five missions to deliver the selected habitat and other equipment to cislunar orbit, including the vehicle that will actually be used to eventually send a crew to Mars, the Deep Space Transport.

Program would cost an estimated $1 trillion, according to NASA

Once those missions are complete and the Deep Space Gateway is fully assembled, they plan to conduct a yearlong crewed mission around the moon to evaluate whether or not the Deep Space Transport is capable of making the 1,000-plus day voyage to the Red Planet and back.

Williams said that the agency’s plan is “evolving,” according to Space.com, but the current goal is to complete four crewed flights to deliver Deep Space Gateway infrastructure to the moon and a robotic arm to make the station more autonomous between 2018 and 2026. Phase 2 would then begin in 2027, and would include the mission to deliver the Deep Space Transport vehicle.

The one-year lunar orbit mission would follow delivery of the spacecraft, and in the late 2020s, additional flights would transport supplies needed to prepare for the first flights to the Red Planet in the 2030, he explained. In all, Engadget said, those missions will likely cost NASA more than $1 trillion over a 25-year-span, according to the agency-funded non-profit Mars Institute.

“We're trying to lead this journey to Mars with a broad range of partnerships," Williams said at the conference, according to Space.com. “One of the things we'll be doing over the next few years is, putting that package together: what players want to provide what – both nationally and internationally – and how we can together, with NASA in an orchestrating role, really move out on these crewed missions to Mars.”

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Image credit: NASA