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Washington -Nasa has revealed new details of its plan to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. The space agency was recently given the go-ahead for a mission to redirect an asteroid into the moon’s orbit, land astronauts there and use the asteroid as a testing outpost and way station on the way to Mars .
Development of key components of the deep-space rocket, capsule and infrastructure needed to reach Mars are already underway. Nasa’s top human exploration chief has revealed to a Senate panel plans for a manned mission Mars in the 2030s are on track. Development of key components of the deep-space rocket, capsule and infrastructure needed to reach Mars are already underway - and today Nasa was given the go-ahead for a mission to land on an asteroid as part of a 'stepping stone' to Mars . 'Our next step is deep space, where NASA will send a robotic mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon,' Nasa said today.
'Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. 'This experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit will help NASA test new systems and capabilities, such as Solar Electric Propulsion, which we’ll need to send cargo as part of human missions to Mars .'
A House subcommittee recently approved an authorization bill that would allow Nasa to redirect an asteroid into the moon’s orbit, land astronauts there and use the asteroid as a testing outpost and way station on the way to Mars . 'Beginning in FY 2018, NASA’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will enable these ‘proving ground’ missions to test new capabilities,' Nasa said.
'Human missions to Mars will rely on Orion and an evolved version of SLS that will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever flown.' The agency will now have to spell out the cost and details of the mission as part of an exploration 'roadmap' to Mars that Nasa will have to submit to Congress.
The approval came as associate Nasa  Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier told members of a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee that the agency remains on target to launch an uncrewed mission in 2017 to test the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle that will carry astronauts to Mars .
Avionics testing of solid rocket boosters was completed this week at Kennedy Space Center in preparation for a test of the SLS rocket later this year, and acoustic testing is also underway. 'There is real hardware in manufacture for the path to Mars ,' Gerstenmaier told senators.
'Our architecture is designed for long-term human exploration of our solar system, including the goal of human missions to Mars .' The hearing, called 'From Here to Mars ,' outlined intermediate space missions being planned as steps toward long-duration space travel. 'With the technologies and techniques we develop, we will enable expeditions to multiple destinations, ultimately allowing us to pioneer Mars and other destinations as we lay the  groundwork for permanent human settlements in the solar system,' Gerstenmaier  said.
One planned mission is to a near-Earth asteroid, Gerstenmaier said. 'NASA will employ SLS and Orion for an early human exploration mission to perform pioneering human operations further from the Earth than ever before, rendezvousing with and returning samples from an asteroid redirected to at stable orbit around the Moon by the robotic segment of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM),' he explained.
'We're going to grab a piece of the solar system, we're going to deflect it around the moon and insert it into a distant retrograde orbit around the moon where our crews can go visit,’ he said. 'To think we're moving a piece of the solar system for our use that will allow us to learn skills and techniques that we need to push the human presence into the solar system, that's a pretty awe-inspiring statement.' However, the ambitious Mars mission could be delayed or derailed if funding from a budget-conscious Congress continues to erode, or if other countries’ plans for a lunar mission force the US to change course for security reasons.