NASA is leading the next steps into deep space near the moon, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars. The area of space near the moon offers a true deep space environment to gain experience for human missions that push farther into the solar system, access the lunar surface for robotic missions but with the ability to return to Earth if needed in days rather than weeks or months.
The period of exploration in the vicinity of the moon will begin with the first integrated mission of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft, and will continue as we explore further. NASA aims to begin a cadence of one flight per year after the second mission, and the agency has established an initial set of integrated human exploration objectives combining the efforts aboard the International Space Station, SLS and Orion, and other capabilities needed to support human missions to explore deep space.
Nextbigfuture thinks NASA needs to ditch the Space Launch System and work with Spacex and Blue Origin.
Deep Space Gateway
This first phase of exploration near the moon will use current technologies and allow us to gain experience with extended operations farther from Earth than previously completed. These missions enable NASA to develop new techniques and apply innovative approaches to solving problems in preparation for longer-duration missions far from Earth.
Deep Space Transport
The second phase of missions will confirm that the agency’s capabilities built for humans can perform long duration missions beyond the moon. For those destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars, NASA envisions a deep space transport spacecraft. This spacecraft would be a reusable vehicle that uses electric and chemical propulsion and would be specifically designed for crewed missions to destinations such as Mars. The transport would take crew out to their destination, return them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again. The transport would take full advantage of the large volumes and mass that can be launched by the SLS rocket, as well as advanced exploration technologies being developed now and demonstrated on the ground and aboard the International Space Station.
This second phase will culminate at the end of the 2020s with a one year mission in the lunar vicinity to validate the readiness of the system to travel beyond the Earth-moon system to Mars and other destinations, and build confidence that long-duration, distant human missions can be safely conducted with independence from Earth. Through the efforts to build this deep space infrastructure, this phase will enable explorers to identify and pioneer innovative solutions to technical and human challenges discovered or engineered in deep space.