NASA doesn't just have a vague vision of putting humans on Mars by the 2030s: It now has a detailed plan to make it happen. In a report released last week, called "NASA's Journey to Mars," the space agency reveals a three-step plan, which includes more research on the International Space Station, reports NBC News. In the first "Earth Reliant" phase already underway, NASA plans to continue to study the effects of living in space for long periods and develop its Space Launch System, which will become the successor to the space shuttle and the agency's most powerful rocket yet, reports Smithsonian. It should eventually be able to carry astronauts and 130 metric tons of cargo toward Mars, together with the Orion capsule, reports Popular Science. NASA will also work on a laser communication system that will allow astronauts to quickly send and receive data from the Red Planet.
In the second phase, called "Proving Ground," NASA says it will test deep-space habitats and conduct experiments around the moon, or in cislunar space. The plan is to send a solar-electric robotic probe to steal a boulder-sized piece of an asteroid and bring it into cislunar orbit. Then NASA hopes to send astronauts to study the sample by 2025, which will force them to work beyond the space station. If that goes well, the third phase, dubbed "Earth Independent," will involve sending astronauts to orbit Mars and maybe land on one of its moons. The next leap would be to land humans on the Red Planet with equipment necessary for a safe return to Earth. "Like the Apollo program, we embark on this journey for all humanity. Unlike Apollo, we will be going to stay," NASA writes. Until a budget and schedule are set, however, the House science committee chair says NASA's plan "is actually a journey to nowhere," per BuzzFeed. (Read more NASA stories.)