WASHINGTON, DC – In “The Martian,” one of the hit films of 2015, NASA heroically saves a stranded astronaut with a little help from international partners and a lot of human ingenuity. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie is visually beautiful, and provides nail-biting entertainment. But it also highlights what humans can accomplish when we put our minds to it, and – like Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey” – it offers a glimpse into what the future of space exploration could look like.
NASA provided some technical guidance during the production of the movie, and many of the scenes showcased technologies that we are working on today – from advanced spacesuits to methods for growing food in space. These technologies could one day be used to explore Mars in real life.
NASA has set the ambitious goal of sending humans to Mars by the mid-2030s. In a recently released report, “NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration,” we outline what humankind must do to get there. The steps include continued research on the International Space Station (ISS), and then moving humans beyond low Earth orbit to what we call “the proving ground” – the region of space near the moon. This will allow us to push the limits of our capabilities in a place from which astronauts can safely return home in a few days.
There is one thing “The Martian” got wrong. Unlike in the film – not to mention NASA’s real-life exploration of the moon – human exploration of Mars will not be a NASA-dominated endeavor. On the contrary, people and resources from around the world will contribute to preparations to send humans to Mars, and the journey itself will be pursued in partnership with other countries’ space agencies and with the help of the private sector.