Washington: NASA is closer than ever to sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s and is empowering US entrepreneurs and innovators to expand the nascent commercial market in low-Earth orbit, the US space agency administrator Charlie Bolden has said.
"NASA is on a journey to Mars and a new consensus is emerging around our plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s," Bolden said in a statement on Thursday.
"Our strategy calls for working with commercial partners to get our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) while NASA also focuses - simultaneously - on getting our astronauts to deep space," he added.
In 2010, US President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work "with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable".
According to Bolden, less than six years later, commercial carriers have transported 35,000 pounds of space cargo to the ISS.
"We would be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers," he wrote.
Since the first SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply mission to deliver cargo to the ISS in October 2012 and Orbital ATK's first Cygnus mission in January 2014, American companies have delivered cargo to the ISS that enables astronauts to work on scientific research and technology demonstrations aboard the ISS.
Across the board, about 80 percent of NASA's activities are carried out by its partners in industry and at America's academic institutions.
The US space agency is developing more than 1,600 new technologies a year and work with business partners to transfer thousands of products, services and processes into the market for job creation and economic growth.
"In other words, at NASA we're exploring deep space, but we're anchored right here on Earth where we're creating jobs and fuelling innovation, technology development and growth, recognising that it all depends on American ingenuity and innovation," Bolden emphasised.