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Bringing life to the Red Planet - Obama plans to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s

In a CNN essay, the US President has vowed to send people to Mars in 14 years by partnering with private industry. Companies are reportedly working on building habitats to transport astronauts on deep space missions.

The United States plans to work with private space travel companies in order to bring people to Mars, US President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday.

"We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time," Obama wrote in the CNN opinion piece.

Since taking office eight years ago, Obama has said the US wants to send astronauts to the Red Planet, Earth's neighbor, by the 2030s. Tuesday's announcement denotes the country's first plans to include private companies in Washington's previously announced plan.

"I'm excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space," Obama wrote.

The hope is to evolve the habitats into spacecraft which would support human life for the long trip to Mars, wrote NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a NASA blog post on Tuesday. Bolden also said NASA has been working with six companies since 2014 to develop the technology.

In his essay, Obama said private space travel companies plan on sending astronauts for the first time to the International Space Station.

Bolden and Obama did not specify which companies NASA is partnered with. The California-based SpaceX company, headed by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, also intends to send people to Mars in the next few years.

SpaceX did not immediately comment on the president's remarks on Tuesday.

NASA is developing a powerful rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS) and a deep space capsule, Orion, with the goal of eventually sending people to Earth's red neighbor.

The first SLS launch with no people on board is planned for 2018. Should it prove successful, a US mission to send humans into space beyond the Moon - but not all the way to Mars - is planned for the 2020s.

rs/jm (APF, Reuters)

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