NASA: Humanity closer to reaching Mars

Humanity is as close as it as ever been to successfully putting a human being on Mars, according to the head of NASA.

“It is my firm belief that we are closer to getting there today than we have ever been before in the history of human civilization,” Charles Bolden told a conference centered on the issue on Tuesday.

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“We are just a few years away from being inside 20 years to the realistic feasibility of putting humans on Mars.”

The Obama administration has for years been working on a plan to launch a manned mission to Mars at some point in the 2030s, for which the government has devoted billions of dollars.

“There is a new consensus that is emerging around this timetable and this goal,” Bolden said at the Humans to Mars conference in Washington. “This plan is clear, this plan is sustainable and this plan is affordable.”

While the ultimate goal may still be decades away, NASA has hit a number of milestones in recent months.

The agency has begun testing a major new rocket that could bring humans deep into space. And in December, it successfully launched an unmanned Orion capsule, which will eventually be used as the transport vehicle to carry humans the 140 million miles to the Red Planet. 

In March, astronaut Scott Kelly was sent to the International Space Station for a record-breaking 342-day mission meant to help scientists understand what happens to humans who spend long amounts of time in outer space.

Kelly — the brother-in-law of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) — is planning to stay twice as long as any U.S. astronaut has ever spent on the space station.