NASA’s Charles Bolden: Manned mission to Mars is closer than ever

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US space agency NASA is inching ahead with its plans of sending astronauts to Mars and according to the agency’s chief Charles Bolden, that day is getting closer than ever.

“[Putting] boots on Mars is possibly the most exciting thing humans will ever do,” Bolden said.

At an event at NASA headquarters, Bolden said that NASA, on the path of sending humans to Mars, has moved a lot further than at any point in its history; however, there is a lot of work that needs to be done before NASA gets humans to Mars, “but we’ll get there”.

The event also saw participation from NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division along with Andy Weir, author of the sci-fi novel “The Martian,” which has been made into a movie starring Matt Damon.

NASA is already working on the Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket that will be the two key components of the space agency’s aim of sending humans to Mars as well as on other deep space missions.

Though individual testing of the Orion and the SLS are already underway, NASA will be sending the two on a single unmanned test flight in 2018, NASA had revealed earlier.

Developments on the ISS including the growing of lettuce and a year-long-stay by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are some of the projects that will help NASA plan out its mission to Mars.

Such work should inform planning for crewed Red Planet missions, which could take astronauts away from Earth for 500 days or more, NASA officials have said.

There are other projects that NASA has either commissioned or working on including the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), which will pull carbon dioxide from the thin Martian atmosphere and turn it into pure oxygen and carbon monoxide, demonstrating technology that could keep settlers alive on the Red Planet — and help them blast off the surface when it’s time to go home.

“We’re going to make oxygen on another planet — the first time ever to make oxygen on another planet,” Newman said. “These experiments — they’re real, they’re here.”

“We have been engaged in getting to Mars — getting humans to Mars — for at least 40 years, beginning with the first precursors,” Bolden said. “I have no doubt that we can accomplish what we have set our minds to do.”