NASA says that a crew will launch to the Red Planet in 2023 in the final installment of its Human Exploration of Mars program, an effort that began in 2007 and includes two flights by the US space agency to orbit the moon and an eventual trip to Mars.

Aside from a temporary test in 2013, which sent a space capsule back to Earth after landing and gliding back to Mars orbit, this will be the first human mission to the planet. The world’s space agencies have been vying for the right to take manned trips to the red planet for decades. Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit, has selected 68 mostly young candidates for its first group of humans to leave Earth.

Space launches will become more affordable

The US space agency would prefer to launch its human explorers to Mars on the Russian spacecraft Soyuz. But recent developments will lead to cheaper launches into space, which NASA hopes will enable it to send more people to Mars and inspire them to pursue careers in the sciences.

Now that SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has been completed and ready for its debut launch, SpaceX intends to charge its US-based customers substantially less than the US$120 million it charges for its Falcon 9 rocket. Other US spaceflight companies that have benefited from rocket costs that plummeted after the Space Shuttle program was shut down in 2011 include Blue Origin and Orbital ATK.

NASA’s next attempt to send astronauts to Mars will come in 2023. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Europe, Russia, and China have followed NASA’s lead in training European Space Agency astronauts for spaceflight aboard Soyuz. In 2015, the agency announced a rotation plan for ESA astronauts to fly on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from its space facility at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Vyacheslav Krasnov, a NASA engineer who will launch to Mars in 2023, told the British Sky TV network he’ll be able to use the system in one manner: by using a millimeter-wave communications transmitter that can be deployed in the cosmos, as well as at the International Space Station (ISS).

Krasnov also noted that the astronauts will wear wireless headsets and use the space robots more or less the same way they do on the ISS, indicating that astronauts won’t rely on supersonic (ultra-high speed) flight.

The most likely destination of Mars explorers will be the planet’s rugged southern region, closer to the horizon than other locations on the planet. (NASA)