0 In Aerospace Engineering

What is the deal with people on Mars?

People landing on Mars goes beyond the scope of what NASA is doing and, trust me, it can get very confusing figuring out who is doing what on Mars! Depending on which program you have read about, you could be thinking we are just visiting Mars or we are actually inhabiting the red planet. There are two main players in the moving people on Mars business and it is time to clarify exactly who is planning what.

Those main players are the Mars One Mission and NASA’s Journey to Mars. First I’m going to give you a basic overview of each of the missions; then I will follow with what all this means big picture wise. LET’S DIVE IN!


You can follow NASA’s 33 page plan yourself here. It has lots of pretty infographics and information for you to check out (but yeah 33 pages… eeeeeek)…. OR you could read all the major events on this numbered timeline I prepared based on that document. Hey, if you are feeling bold after reading this post and want to tackle it, by all means I have left the link there for a reason 😉 . Also for consistency, I will be splitting this timeline according to NASA’s beloved three phases. As far as timing goes, it isn’t chronological because the phases overlap but all the events are dated to keep you on track.

  1. Earth Reliant – Astronauts can make it home from a mission in hours
    • 2010: NASA has been studying health effects on astronauts of long term space travel on the International Space Station(ISS*) and researching advanced fire safety equipment, high-data-rate communications, radiation monitoring, and shielding etc.
    • 2014: NASA has been partnering with the industry for commercial crew and cargo. This is a little less intuitive. NASA wants to build relationships with private companies working in Low Earth Orbit in anticipation of helping with the Journey to Mars.
  2. Proving Ground – Astronauts can make it home from a mission in days
    • 2014: Orion (the ship that will hold the Mars crew) ran its first test on United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy Launcher
    • 2018: Orion and SLS/Space Launch System (Mars spaceship and launcher) will do their first integrated test. It will be unmanned.
    • 2021: Manned Orion + SLS test launch (This got moved back earlier this year to 2023 but NASA says they are still trying for the 2021 date).
    • Early 2020s: NASA will be developing Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) for a Mars cargo vehicle. This a cheaper way to send supplies to Mars, using the sun instead of fuel. Also NASA is looking into using SEP to redirect its vehicles for refurbishment and reuse.
    • Early 2020s: Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Yes, it is exactly as it sounds: NASA is redirecting an asteroid to orbit the Moon.
    • Mid 2020s: Astronauts will use this moved asteroid as a trial for exploring Mars. They will take Orion and SLS to travel to asteroid and perform some tests on how the living arrangements fare before the trek to Mars.  There will be several of these tests throughout the decade.
    • 2024: NASA transitions away from using the ISS
    • Late 2020s: Manned missions to the asteroid will be over longer periods of time.
  3. Earth Independent – Astronauts can make it home from a mission in months
    • 2016: Robotic Mars Mission Insight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) will launch and study Mars’s core.
    • 2020: Mars 2020 rover will launch to find an ancient water terrain for astronauts to land and study. It will also carry an instrument to test the technology for turning Martian atmosphere into oxygen for propellent.
    • 2030s: Humans arrive at Mars!


For starters landing on Mars is only the first part; what the program is working on is settlement on Mars. This means all Astronauts are agreeing to a one way ticket to this foreign wasteland. This also means leaving a lot of loved ones here on Earth and never seeing them again.

Here is the lineup for all the milestones to get to that point:

  1. In 2016, the narrowed list of astronauts will be chosen and will begin their on Earth training (living in seclusion in the desert and later in the Arctic).
  2.  In 2020, a demonstration satellite and communication satellite will be launched. The demonstration satellite will be used to test technologies needed for the mission at Mars and the communication satellite is for well uhhh communication ;).
  3.  In 2022, a rover will be launched to Mars to choose a good area for settling. Once the location is determined, the rover will become a very expensive housekeeper, sweeping the area for the Astronauts arrival).
  4.  In 2024, six cargo  units will launch and will arrive to the site in 2025. This includes a second rover, some life support units, and some living units. The first rover will then set the units up, releasing their solar panels and starting the air and water systems. The rover will make sure systems are ready for astronauts’ arrival.
  5.  In 2026, the first group of settlers leave Earth; in this same year, the cargo for the next group is also supposed to launch.
  6.  In 2027, first group is on Mars! They get picked up from their descent vehicle by that trusty rover  and start their new life in the units. They have a couple chores to do including releasing the rest of the solar panels, making hallways, and getting the second crews’ cargo set up.
  7. In 2028, the second crew leaves earth. This will continue every 2 years (until we rule Mars hahha jk I guess until people stop caring which I hope is never because that will get very lonley for the Astronauts there…. oh yeah and the experiments they will be doing will further science blah blah blah).


The key dilemma with the Mars One Mission is it is a private organization that is not an “aerospace company” AKA they are going to have to rent out their ride because they don’t actually build rocket ships. Therefore Mars One timeline is at the mercy of when the Industry’s technology has the capabilities Mars One’s stages need. In short, Mars One probably won’t keep to its timeline for much longer. Good news is even though NASA isn’t going to Mars until 2030s, its launcher and ship should be ready to go by the early 2020s and if private companies continue in a similar pattern, Mars One might inhabit Mars before NASA gets there. Might being the key word 😉 One thing is pretty clear: people landing on Mars is an exciting event in our near future.

Last note: I usually just leave the links there for your sifting but “the narrowed list of astronauts” above is definitely worth checking out!

Happy exploring!


* A list of acronyms used in this article
ARM = Asteroid Redirect Mission
ISS = International Space Station
SEP = Solar Electric Propulsion
SLS = Space Launch System

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