The US is in the early stages of plans to land humans on the surface of Mars in 2036, Charles Elachi, head of NASA’s missions to the Red Planet, told delegates at the Arabian Business Forum 2012 in Dubai.
“We don’t have a programme [to send a man to Mars] but we are starting to plan,” Elachi, who heads up the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Pasadena-based NASA agency that constructs and operates robotic planetary spacecraft, said.
“Interestingly enough we can go to Mars every four years or so. Every 18 years they get very close. We are thinking not for 2018 but 2036 [for a human mission],” he added.
Elachi’s team at JPL successfully masterminded the landing of a one-tonne vehicle – called ‘Curiosity’ – in a deep crater on the surface of Mars in August 2012.
The rover has now begun a two-year mission to look for evidence that the Red Planet may once have supported life, but Elachi said plans to send humans to Mars is possible.
“It is a challenge as it takes nine months to get there. Imagine if you are sending three people for 18 months, how much food and garbage and water you have to take. It is a massive engineering challenge but it is it is feasible.
"We are in the early stages. 2036 – that is the target,” he said.
Lebanon-born Elachi still retains his ties with the Gulf region via a board position of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the King Fahd University of Petrochemicals and Minerals, both in Saudi Arabia.