US President Barack Obama says he'll help send people to Mars as soon as 14 years from now, pledging to work with private companies "to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space".
"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," Mr Obama said in an opinion piece for CNN on Tuesday.
Mr Obama's comments come ahead of a meeting planned by the White House in Pittsburgh this week aimed at teaming up scientists, students and others to further efforts to develop the commercial space market, according to the piece.
While private companies are already working on missions to space, including to the International Space Station, humans have yet to travel to Mars, Earth's neighbour some 56 million km away at their closest point in orbit, according to NASA.
Like Earth, the so-called Red Planet also has seasons, and a 2012 NASA mission found conditions there once supported microbial life, according to the US space agency.
It would take about nine months to get there, depending on rocket velocity, some NASA experts have said. A high-speed trip could take as little as 130 days.
Auckland University astrobiologist Kathy Campbell says it is still early days in terms of planning a return trip to Mars.
"We have much better technology now so of course we are at early stages but remember we are starting to commercialise, we are starting to bring down the price of putting rockets into space, these are important early first steps."
"Doing habitats, another really important first step and that's what Obama is saying."
Ms Campbell says planning a success trip is all about taking small steps which she says, is exactly what President Obama hinted at.
"There are people literally planning how do we get there? What do we do about humans in space?"
"Yes we are in early days, in the 2030s if we can get there, that's a huge push but he's setting it as an inspiration, as a target."
Reuters / Newshub.