WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday (Oct 11) he would help send people to Mars as soon as 14 years from now, pledging to work with private companies to "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," Obama said in an opinion piece for CNN posted to its website.
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 neighbor some 35 million miles (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, they said on the agency's website.
It has been decades since the United States sent astronauts to the moon in 1969, and efforts to fund the space programme have faltered in recent years over concerns about government spending and fiscal priorities.