While a manned mission to Mars will not happen until at least 2030, NASA hopes to make serious strides in understanding what such a mission will require.

2016 New Year's Resolution For NASA? Get Closer To Mars

What NASA has planed for its 2016

Elon Musk is not the only person who believes that the colonization of Mars is important and wishes to get there himself at considerable expense. It is also NASA’s primary goal in the coming decades having shutdown its space shuttle program and having outsourced a good deal of its other work. You wouldn’t be terrifically off base if you viewed its present missions as simply taking pretty pictures. Actually, you would be terrifically off base as, for example, the camera-equipped satellites studying comets and flying past Pluto are equipped with a number of additional sensors and means of data collection.

I can see that a manned mission to Mars is viewed as a ridiculous expense to many but I happen to disagree. Hell, while we’re at it a number of presidential candidates believe that NASA’s studies of the oceans’ currents and temperatures or just climate change or global warming in general shouldn’t be looked at as they don’t exist and therefore NASA should be stripped of funding which I also happen to disagree with quite strongly.

I digress, but this lot running for their party’s nomination often does that to me. Regardless, NASA is working towards Mars, 2016 is as good of time as any and they have the budget to get to work.

“We’re optimistic that we can get to the Mars vicinity in the 2030s, whether that first mission is an orbital mission, whether we go to the Martian moons or whether we actually go to the Martian surface,” says  NASA’s Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan. “We want to make sure we can do it safely.”

Safety and Astronaut Scott Kelly

Any trip to Mars will likely take at least eight months one-way. NASA has repeatedly stated that its preference is for a return trip even if they have astronauts that would volunteer to stay. It’s with this understanding that NASAs astronaut Scott Kelly will have spent a year at the International Space Station when he returns to Earth in March 2016.

Generally speaking, crews at the ISS only spend six months in orbit there but NASA hopes that Kelly’s mission will provide insight in how longer stays affect the human body including: vision problems, bone density loss, muscle atrophy and a long list of other concerns. It’s likely that before any manned-mission to Mars, someone will spend even more time in orbit and microgravity than astronaut Kelly.

NASA’s other plans for Mars in 2016

“Before you want to go somewhere, you really need to understand it,” Stofan says. “That’s what we call our ongoing work at Mars—to nail down all these little bits of information and say, ‘OK, now we feel like we really understand this environment, and we’re going to feel comfortable sending humans into that environment to live and work.’”

Knowing this, 2016 will see NASA launch InSight, a probe designed to study the core of Mars after it lands with the the hope of finding out more about the planets formation. NASA is also participating in the ExoMars program with the European Space Agency as well as the Russian Federal Space Agency. ExoMars will see the launch of its first mission next year with the goal of investigating past or continuing(?) life on the Red Planet.

Is Colonization ultimately the goal?

Who knows? But if it is, Mars surely presents itself as the best option. Mars’ recently discovered water is key while its atmosphere, temperature and solid land make it, at the end of the day, the only option.

“What we’re in the process of doing is saying, ‘OK, I want to end up with people on the surface of Mars. What are all the things I need to have to accomplish that?’ ” Stofan says. “You really need to think of every single step of the journey.”