NASA Deep-Space Missions Take Aim at Mars

The announcement today of an ambitious new project to launch the first private manned mission to Mars in 2018 may suggest to some that NASA has lost a step in the pursuit of deep-space exploration. But the U.S. space agency is forging ahead with plans for a flexible new spaceship and rocket to send astronauts deeper into space than ever before.
The nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation unveiled plans for a private Mars flyby mission today (Feb. 27) that calls for a January 2018 launch of a two-person crew — a man and woman, possibly a married couple — on a 501-day trip to the Red Planet and back. The mission would not land on Mars but bring a capsule and inflatable module within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the Martian surface before zooming away back to Earth.
Just one hour after the Inspiration Mars Foundation announcement in Washington, D.C., NASA officials here at the Kennedy Space Center briefed reporters about the agency’s own plans for deep-space missions, including an eventual Mars trek.