The hatch to the airlock opens, revealing a human figure encased in a white pressure suit. After a brief glance at the strange surroundings through his bowl-shaped visor, the ambassador from Earth gingerly steps outside and begins to descend the ladder. Within minutes, the visitor from another world reaches the bottom rung and prepares for a ‘giant leap’ – humanity’s first imprint in the pristine, orange sands that stretch as far as the eye can see. The human exploration of Mars has begun. Science fiction? At present, the answer is yes, but this fictional scenario may become a reality by the year 2030. In order to achieve such an ambitious target, ESA has introduced its new Aurora programme. This will eventually enable European astronauts to venture beyond Earth’s orbit to the Moon, Mars and beyond.