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Obama wants private companies to help send humans to Mars by the 2030s

By Jim Puzzanghera

Los Angeles Times/TNS

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he wants private companies to help send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

Obama first said in 2010 he wanted to send astronauts “to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth” by the mid-2030s with “a landing on Mars” to follow. In that speech at the Kennedy Space Center, Obama added that he expected to see such a landing in his lifetime.

In an opinion article Tuesday on CNN.com, Obama said private companies would be a key to the lofty goals.

“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time,” Obama said.

“Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way,” he said.

Obama noted that private companies will send astronauts to the international space station for the first time within the next two years and that NASA is working with “commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.”

“These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we’ll need for the long journey to Mars,” Obama said.

There are more than 1,000 U.S. companies working on private space initiatives, he said.

One of those firms is Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX. And in a speech last month to the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, laid out his vision for establishing a self-sustaining colony on Mars.

SpaceX, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is working on spacecraft to accomplish the mission and the first test flight could come in four years, he said. A crewed mission could launch in late 2024 and arrive on Mars in 2025.

Developing the interplanetary transport system could cost SpaceX $10 billion. Sending humans to Mars would be even more expensive and would require a public/private partnership, Musk said.

NASA is developing a massive rocket called the Space Launch System that the agency plans to send to an asteroid in the mid-2020s and to Mars in the 2030s.

In April, SpaceX announced plans to send an unmanned Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018 to test landing capabilities, interplanetary navigation and other systems. NASA will provide some technical support for the mission because it is interested in the entry, descent and landing data.

Accomplishing Obama’s goal will depend on future presidents. SpaceNews reported last month that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton supported plans to send humans to Mars in response to a questionnaire on science policy from ScienceDebate.org.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump praised space exploration but did not say he supported a human Mars mission.

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