“We are building for the long term, going to the Moon to stay, and moving beyond to Mars," said Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the U.S. space agency on Wednesday.
The U.S. agency, NASA is currently working on a programme that will use the moon as a stepping stone to reach a bigger goal -Mars.
Even though it Saturday July 20 will mark 50 years since humankind first landed on the moon, no one has returned to the lunar landscape since 1972. NASA is aiming to return to the earth's satellite, however, with an accelerated programme dubbed Artemis aiming to put humankind back on the moon by 2024.
"NASA is working to build a sustainable, open architecture that returns humanity to our nearest neighbour,” said Bridenstine.
Officials at the agency say that exploration of the moon and Nasa is intertwined. NASA sees the moon as an ideal testing spot for Mars, demonstrating new technologies and building extra-terrestrial outposts.
A mission to Mars could come as early as 2033, Bridenstine told reporters on Monday.
“We are working right now, in fact, to put together a comprehensive plan on how we would conduct a Mars mission using the technologies that we will be proving at the moon.”
Technologies that can be tested on the moon, like mining the lunar terrain's subsurface water ice could be crucial for missions to Mars. Accomplishing this would have a range of potential benefits, from sustaining crew members to breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen to use as rocket propellant.
At its closest orbit point to Earth, Mars is still 58 million km away.
Comparing the original Apollo 11 mission with today's Artemis one, roboticist William Whittaker said it's an issue of "utilisation versus curiosity."
This comparison is fitting in more ways than one. In Greek mythology, Apollo and Artemis were twins, children of Zeus and symbolising similar ideas as iterated by Whittaker. Apollo was the god of truth, light, and medicine, with Artemis the goddess of the moon, childbirth and the wilderness.