NASA really wants humans make it to Mars, and it also really wants to be the one that gets us there. In fact, NASA administrator Charles Bolden went so far as to say that "No commercial company without the support of NASA and government is going to get to Mars."
Bolden made the blunt statement on Thursday morning when speaking to the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, in response to a suggestion that the government agency could be entering a new space race to get to Mars with the likes of commercial spaceflight company SpaceX.
"Our ultimate focus is the journey to Mars and everything comes back to that," Bolden told lawmakers.
NASA's official goal is to get astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. Of course, the private company Mars One has grandstanded about setting up a Martian colony nearly a decade sooner. But the Mars One hype bubble started to burst last fall, when an independent analysis conducted by MIT researchers identified life-threatening flaws in company's mission design. More recently, a Mars One finalist spoke out about the company's wildly sketchy approach to funding, leading many to question whether or not the entire operation is, in fact, anything more than a scam.
Not only does Bolden find the notion of Elon Musk getting boots on Mars first preposterous, he maintains that the ultimate focus of many recent NASA initiatives, including the recently-announced Asteroid Redirect Mission, is to serve as a testing ground for technologies that will, eventually, put a colony on the red planet.
"Mars is the planet that is most like earth," Bolden said, "And it will sustain life when humans [NASA-trained astronauts] get there in the 2030s." [Forbes]
Top image: Artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft via NASA / JPL-Caltech