NASA released a plan on Thursday (PDF) that explains how it intends to send astronauts on a round-trip journey to Mars in about 20 years. The report, titled "NASA's Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration," is meant to sum up the agency's goals and approach for making the first footprints on Martian soil.
So far, lawmakers have criticized the report for being a little scant on details. To save you time, we pulled out the biggest landmarks of the planned journey between today and the 2030s.
NASA says solar electric propulsion, or SEP, is the way to get big payloads into deep space safely without breaking the bank. It hopes to use SEP to set up a unique training ground orbiting the moon. Hit the next slide for more on that.
Making the long journey to Mars while staying safe and healthy will require more than a space-worthy Winnebago. A deep-space habitat has been tested under desert conditions here on Earth and NASA hopes to launch such a habitat for missions to cislunar space in the next decade or so.
Before setting human foot on Mars, NASA plans to send more robots to scope out the scene a little more thoroughly. The planned Mars 2020 rover will test a method for making oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, among other bits of helpful science.
Ferrying all the infrastructure and supplies needed to set up shop on Mars will require lots of firepower, and NASA's answer is the Space Launch System (SLS), its next-generation rocket designed with deep-space missions in mind.
An Uber won't get us to Mars just yet. Fortunately, NASA has already been testing its new Orion crew capsule that could ride atop the Space Launch System to one day transport astronauts to the Red Planet.
The Martian environment will require a rethinking and redesign of all sorts of astronaut gear, starting with the spacesuit. NASA recently held a spacesuit design challenge to kick off the process and the winner was this very sci-fi looking number dubbed the "Z-2."
Unlike with the moon landing, gear and other assets will need to be put in place on the surface and in orbit around Mars before astronauts arrive, kind of like having robotic porters to set up camp for you (if camp were millions of miles away).
Decades of research, development, training and prep launches will, hopefully, culminate in the landing of human astronauts in Mars. NASA's current timeline has this historic landing happening in the mid-2030s or later. Will someone else get there first? Some says the odds are in favor of it, although those colonists might not last long.