— NASA is expected to announce Monday that the first astronauts will fly in a rocket to Mars in 2019, the agency said in a news release.
The Space Launch System rocket will be the first in the agency’s commercial crew program, which began in 2020.
“Today marks the start of a new era of human spaceflight, and this mission will bring the first crew of the 2030s to the Red Planet,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in the news release announcing the plan.
NASA will launch the first five astronauts on the SLS rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Two more crews will fly aboard the SLC-40 rocket, the company said.
The first flight of the first three crews will be on the first stage of the Falcon Heavy rocket.
Launch is planned for Sept. 7, 2019.
A commercial crew capsule will carry NASA astronauts, which includes NASA astronaut Doug Hurley and the Russian crew.
In the near term, NASA plans to start testing its robotic Mars probes and will deploy a lander, Curiosity, in 2021.
NASA is planning to launch a second crew capsule on the Mars 2020 rover in 2022.
A third crew capsule is planned, but it’s unclear when that will be.
An unmanned test mission to Mars, dubbed the Exploration Mission 1, is scheduled to begin in 2020, NASA said.
NASA hopes to fly astronauts to the planet by 2022.NASA is the only space agency that has commercial crews in operation and is looking to get them to Mars by 2025.
It is currently planning to fly only five astronauts in 2020 and is hoping to add six in 2021, but has been struggling to land them on Mars in recent years.
Bruno Mars, the head of the European Space Agency, said last week that the European space agency is now in talks with SpaceX to bring in crew to Mars.
SpaceX has said it will fly five crewmembers to Mars this year and another crew to the moon in 2019.