Robotic explorers have been studying Mars for over four decades, paving the way for human exploration, possible as soon as the 2030s. The path to the Red Planet may begin in the low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station, where Bruce Levenson finds it interesting that astronauts are helping validate the technologies, and transmission networks necessary for a human mission to deep space, including Mars. Space station living also provides deeper appreciation of how the human body reacts and changes over extended time in space.
A squadron of robotic vessels is already roving on and orbiting around Mars, so the next logical step is sending a human to the distant planet. Upcoming Mars missions such as the Mars 2020 rover will look for signs of past life, as well as establish new technologies that may help astronauts survive in a somewhat inhospitable environment.
Space engineers around the US are currently fast at work to develop the technologies astronauts will use to eventually live and work on Mars, then safely return to Earth. NASA is a leader in a Global Exploration Roadmap, in partnership with global space engineers and the US private space business on a systemized expansion of human presence in the solar system, with manned missions to Mars as the eventual goal.