The space agency’s report NASA’s Journey To Mars claims the red planet is the “next tangible frontier for expanding human presence” and states it believes such a mission is achievable.
“Our human and robotic explorers will expand knowledge and discover the potential for life beyond Earth,” it says.
“Our goal is not bound by a single destination. We seek the capacity for people to work, learn, operate, and sustainably live safely beyond Earth for extended periods of time.
“We will achieve this goal with a growing number of international and commercial partners, realising economic benefits and strengthening America’s leadership on Earth and in space.”
If such a mission got off the ground it would be conducted in three phases.
:: Earth Reliant
NASA scientists on board the International Space Station would first conduct feasibility studies into the ability of humans to sustain long-distance, deep space travel.
Life-support systems and human-health and behavioural research would be undertaken as well as extravehicular operations and material flammability tests.
:: Proving Ground
Testing of a deep-space habitation facility would begin, including analysing concepts to reduce supply needs through recycling to enable astronauts to become Earth independent.
An asteroid redirection mission in 2020 would aim to collect a boulder from a near-earth asteroid and ferry it to the proving ground for investigation.
:: Earth Independent
Astronauts would live and work for years in a human-life supporting colony for years.
The facility would require only routine maintenance and harvest Martian resources to create fuel water, oxygen and building materials.
The report reveals that one of the most important challenges of a human mission to Mars is keeping the crew safe for up to 1,100 days when they cannot return to Earth in an emergency.
Sustaining long periods of microgravity also increases the risks of bone loss, fatigue, a loss of clear vision, and general illness for the crew.
The report says NASA will “leverage the Proving Ground with science missions and capability demonstrations to close the remaining gaps and ensure we have the ability to get to Mars, land safely, live and work productively, and return.”