Read More: ScienceAlert
NASA's goal of getting humanity to Mars has been developing for years, but while the space agency has been busily building and testing its most powerful rocket – the Space Launch System (SLS) – it's fair to say we haven't heard a lot of specifics about how and when it would transport astronauts to the Red Planet. That all changed this week, with NASA unveiling on Tuesday a bold multi-launch plan to establish its "Deep Space Gateway": a crewed spaceport orbiting the Moon, from which a series of missions could explore distant space, culminating in a crewed voyage to Mars in 2033. It sounds a little like science fiction – in fact, it's pretty much NASA's version of Stargate without the wormholes – but the space agency is totally serious about getting started, with the first launch in the series, dubbed Exploration Mission 1 (EM–1), set to take place next year. "We are ready to start putting pencils to paper and cutting hardware for these missions," NASA's chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, told the agency's advisory council in a briefing this week. At this stage, the first SLS test flight in EM–1 is expected to be crewless, but that could change closer to launch. NASA will then use the rocket to launch the Europa Clipper spacecraft into space to study Jupiter's moon. After that, the SLS will be involved in a series of missions between 2023 and 2026, launching the components necessary to build the Deep Space Gateway.