ESA head Jean-Jacques Dordain told reporters at an air show near Moscow that the two agencies plan to “carry out the first flight to Mars together,” although the plans were too immature to offer a schedule for the mission.
What Dordain did say, however, is that the Mars500 project — a 520-day simulation by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems intended to see how well the human body can manage a return trip from the Red Planet — was coming along well enough to instill confidence in the agency.
Nevertheless, most scientists conclude that a manned journey to Mars by any nation is decades away due to the cost and technological hurdles of ensuring a safe flight, round-trip.
In 2004, U.S. president George W. Bush outlined extensive plans for NASA to pursue manned missions to Mars. As recent as 2009, proposals have been made to the Augustine Commission for missions as early as 2019; NASA itself has said that 2037 was the target date for such a mission.
Since then, NASA has faced an existential crisis as its space shuttles were decommissioned and its missions outsourced to the private sector. The agency still looms large, of course, but with new faces at the negotiating table it’s less clear if and when milestones can be achieved.