Before humans can touch the ground on Mars, NASA has a three threshold plan using robotics and starting with the Earth Reliant, an “orbiting microgravity laboratory serving as a world-class test bed for technologies and communications systems needed for human missions.” The earth reliant is helping develop deep space systems like human health and life support while astronauts are now “learning about what it takes to live and work in space for long periods of time, increasing our understand of how the body changes in space and how to protect astronaut health.”
The second threshold has a series of missions near the moon. This robotic phase called the Proving Ground will test and decide what we will need to work and live on Mars. The Proving Ground phase will take effect in 2018 until 2030. Astronauts are now hours away from earth yet days away from the proving ground area, and sometime in 2020, NASA will send several astronauts for a year-long mission into this area to test our readiness for Mars. Another part of this phase is the Asteroid Redirect Mission which will capture asteroid boulders and move it into a safe orbit around the moon. Being able to successfully do this will prove crucial when we send cargo as part of human missions to Mars.
In the last phase, Earth Independent, beginning in 2030, NASA will test the entry, descent, and landing techniques into low-level Mars. From there, NASA what is needed to thrive and survive off the land. NASA is already studying exploration zones, and the next land rover is due on Mars in 2020. “There are challenges to pioneering Mars, but we know they are solvable. We are well on our way to getting there, landing there, and living there.”