NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that the dream of sending a manned mission to planet Mars is closer to reality than ever before.
Bolden, who admitted having envisioned himself to become the first person to explore the Red Planet when he joined the astronaut training at the Houston's Johnson Space Center back in the 1980's, said that the U.S. space agency's current aim of bringing humans to Mars in the 2030's is highly possible.
"We are farther down the path to sending humans to Mars than at any point in NASA's history," the space agency chief said during an event at the NASA headquarters on Sept. 17. "We have a lot of work to do to get humans to Mars, but we'll get there."
Latest scientific developments are so far supporting the feasibility of such manned mission. Some of these crucial works include the development of the Orion capsule and the Space Launch Systems (SLS) megarockets that would help get astronauts to deep-space stations. Both are set to fly together on an unmanned test flight in 2018.
Astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) also managed to grow and eat lettuce in the orbiting lab as part of an experiment that aims to learn about food production away from Earth.
Two ISS crewmembers, NASA's Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are also halfway through a year-long mission designed to characterize the physiological and psychological effects of long duration spaceflight.
The result of such work should provide the necessary information that would help in planning manned Mars missions, which would take astronauts away from Earth for 500 days or more. It would provide researchers with hints on how to protect the human body during long duration flights.
The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), on the other hand, aims to find a way to pull carbon dioxide from the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet and then convert this into pure oxygen and carbon monoxide.
Such technology could keep settlers on planet Mars stay alive. Since oxygen can be used as an oxidizer that helps burn rocket fuel, it could also help humans blast off the Martian surface once it is time for them to go back to Earth.
Scientists who operate rovers and spacecraft on and around the Red Planet also find more details about the planet allowing them to characterize its environment to better prepare for the arrival of human explorers.