NASA may send a year-long crewed mission around the moon in 2027 as preparatory step in its plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
The lunar presence will serve as a launching point for the spacecraft that will carry humans to Mars, a NASA official was quoted as saying by Space.com on Wednesday.
The US space agency plans to build a "deep-space gateway" around the moon to test for operations and technology required for NASA's journey to the red planet, Mars.
Phase 2 of NASA's current plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s included sending a crew for validation of the Mars vehicle around the moon.
According to Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policy and plans at NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, eventually the lunar presence would also serve as a launching point for the spacecraft that will carry humans to Mars.
The lunar mission, which will last a year, will be preceded by at least five missions out of which four will have crews.
"If we could conduct a yearlong crewed mission on this Deep Space Transport in cislunar space, we believe we will know enough that we could then send this thing, crewed, on a 1,000-day mission to the Mars system and back," Williams was quoted as saying by the Space.com.
Meanwhile, according to the second man to land on the moon after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, if NASA and its partner agencies were serious about putting boots on Mars in the near future, they should pull the plug on the International Space Station (ISS) at the earliest opportunity, Space.com reported in a separate report.
"We must retire the ISS as soon as possible," the former Apollo 11 moonwalker said Tuesday during a presentation at the 2017 Humans to Mars conference in Washington, DC. "We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost."
He added, NASA should continue to hand over activities in low Earth orbit (LEO) to private industry partners.
The report pointed out that the space agency had been encouraging that move by awarding contracts to companies such as SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Boeing to ferry cargo and crew to and from the ISS.