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How Will We Safely Send the First Humans to the Red Planet?

How Will We Safely Send the First Humans to the Red Planet?

We’ve been exploring the Red Planet for over 50 years – Mariner 4 launched on this day (Nov. 28) in 1964 and took the first photos of Mars from space the following summer.


We first explored the surface 40 years ago (Viking, 1976) and have had a continuous scientific presence on Mars for nearly 20 years, starting with the landing of the Pathfinder lander and Sojourner rover on July 4, 1997.

We currently have three orbiters – MAVEN, MRO and Mars Odyssey – and two rovers – Curiosity and Opportunity – actively exploring Mars.

These robotic explorers have already taught us a lot about the Red Planet, and future missions will teach us even more about how humans can live and work on the surface.


After sending humans on space exploration missions for the last 50 years, we have gained the experience and knowledge to send the first people to Mars. We are working across all areas to prepare for that historic day and want to share our progress with you. 

Building the ride to Mars: NASA’s Space Launch System.

Our ride to Mars, the Space Launch System, is being built right now to meet the challenges of exploring deep space. When it comes to our journey to Mars and beyond, there are no small steps. Our video series by the same name breaks down those steps to show how SLS will send missions to the Red Planet.


Living on the Space Station will help humans live safely on Mars.

New crew members of Expedition 50 will soon conduct more than 250 experiments on the International Space Station. More than 2,000 experiments have already been done! 

Experiments in fields such as biology, Earth science, physical sciences and human research are helping us unlock the knowledge needed to enable humans to live in space for long durations. If you missed the recent launch, check out NASA TV for a replay.


Testing Orion helps crew live and work in space and get home safely.

Scheduled to launch atop the Space Launch System rocket for the first time in 2018, an uncrewed Orion will travel farther into space than any spacecraft built for humans has ever gone before. When Orion returns to Earth, splashing down into the Pacific Ocean, it will take a landing and recovery group to safely return the capsule and crew back to land. A variety of testing on the ground, including to structures and parachutes, is helping make sure Orion can safely carry crew to new destinations in the solar system.


In late October, this recovery group, including NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and contractor employees, completed its fifth successful practice run to recover Orion aboard the USS San Diego. 


We’re using high resolution imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to learn more about potential landing sites for a human mission.

Who knows what surprises the Red Planet holds?

Our Curiosity Rover has discovered all kinds of interesting Mars features including meteorites. How do you learn more about a meteorite? Zap it with lasers, of course.


This golf-ball-sized, iron-nickel meteorite was recently found on Mars where ancient lakebed environments once existed. Named “Egg Rock” for the area in which it was found, it is the first meteorite to be examined using a laser-firing spectrometer.

By studying the conditions on Mars with vehicles like Curiosity, scientists are able to help prepare future astronauts to live on Mars.

How do you prepare the tallest rocket ever built for its first launch?

Another important component in successfully launching the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft on a Journey to Mars is the infrastructure work being done by our Ground Systems Development and Operations Program at Kennedy Space Center.


While efforts at our Vehicle Assembly Building continue, we hope you’ll be making your plans to join us at the launch pad for the first flight of SLS with Orion in 2018!

Preparing for a human journey to Mars

The next Mars rover will launch in 2020, and will investigate a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favorable for microbial life, probing the Martian rocks for evidence of past life. 


It will collect samples and cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission. Mars 2020 will also conduct the first investigation into the usability and availability of Martian resources, including oxygen, in preparation for human missions.

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