For all you conspiracy theorists who believe that NASA's recent announcement about liquid water on Mars was just a viral marketing campaign for The Martian (note: not a real conspiracy theory), here's proof the agency is serious about sending humans to the red planet.
"In the next few decades, NASA will take steps toward establishing a sustainable human presence beyond Earth, not just to visit but to stay," the report says.
Here are the basics of each of the three phases:
Phase One, "Earth Reliant": Build a really big rocket capable of getting there. It's called the Space Launch System, and it's currently in development. The SLS will be 382 feet tall (the largest ever, even larger than the Saturn V that sent us to the moon) and will be capable of sending "payloads of up to 130 metric tons" toward Mars. The SLS could be ready as early as 2017. They also want to do more research on spending long periods in space, like what Mark Kelly is doing on the International Space Station right now.
Phase Two, "Proving Ground": NASA wants to conduct a series of missions in "cislunar orbit" (the area near the moon), using it as a proving ground to prepare for the Mars mission. This includes a mission in 2020 called the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission that will collect a large boulder from a near-Earth asteroid, then ferry it to the Proving Ground near the moon where a crew of astronauts will investigate and sample that boulder. This is also the phase when they want to develop a deep-space habitation facility for long-duration missions off Earth.
Phase Three, "Earth Independent": This is when astronauts will be living and working inside "transit and surface habitats that support human life for years, with only routine maintenance." Such a mission would involve "harvesting Martian resources to create fuel, water, oxygen, and building materials, and communicating with Earth with only a 20-minute delay.