NASA released Plan outlining Next Steps in the Journey to Mars with an aim to establish colonies by 2030s

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Who: Plan outlining Next Steps in the Journey to Mars
What: Released by NASA
When: 9 October 2015

NASA on 9 October 2015 released a report titled NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration. The document contains plan for establishing permanent settlements and creating deep-space habitation facilities on the red planet Mars by 2030s.

The plan under which, Humans will be living and working on Mars in colonies entirely independent of Earth by the 2030s, will act as stepping stones to Mars.

Three stages of Journey to Mars
The journey to Mars will cross three thresholds as identified by NASA, each threshold will have its own challenge. The challenges will increase as humans will move farther from the Earth and closer to Mars.

To manage these challenges, NASA is developing and demonstrating capabilities in incremental steps and they are:
Earth Reliant exploration: It is focused on research aboard the International Space Station. From this world-class microgravity laboratory, NASA is testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep space, long duration missions.
Proving Ground: In this, NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment that allows crews to return to Earth in a matter of days. Primarily operating in cislunar space—the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple possible stable staging orbits for future deep space missions—NASA will advance and validate capabilities required for humans to live and work at distances much farther away from our home planet, such as at Mars.
Earth Independent activities: It will build on what NASA learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface. Future Mars missions will represent a collaborative effort between NASA and its partners to seek the potential for sustainable life beyond Earth.

Technological and Operational Challenges
NASA has identified three technological and operational challenges in the report. These are:
• Transportation, sending humans and cargo through space efficiently, safely, and reliably;
• Working in space, enabling productive operations for crew and robotic systems; and
• Staying healthy, developing habitation systems that provide safe, healthy, and sustainable human exploration.

The report concludes. “Was Mars home to microbial life? Is it today? Could it be a safe home for humans one day? What can it teach us about life elsewhere in the cosmos or how life began on Earth? What can it teach us about Earth’s past, present and future?”