NASA Closer to Sending Astronauts to Mars

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launch

WASHINGTON — (CNN) NASA took a key step forward in the goal to eventually land a person on Mars on Thursday.

Robert Behnken, Sunita Williams, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley will train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, NASA said.

“We are on a journey to Mars, and in order to meet our goals for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s we need to be able to focus both on deep space and the groundbreaking work being done on the International Space Station,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.

The commercial crew initiative is part of the agency’s plan to return space launches to U.S. soil. NASA is working towards a 2017 launch.

“For as long as I’ve been administrator, President Obama has made it very clear that returning the launches of American astronauts to American soil is a top priority — and he has persistently supported this initiative in his budget requests to Congress,” Bolden said.

Training for these flights starts immediately and will create more jobs, officials said. More than 350 American companies in 36 states are working on the commercial crew initiative.

“There are real economic benefits to bolstering America’s emerging commercial space market,” Bolden said. “Every dollar we invest in commercial crew is a dollar we invest in ourselves, rather than in the Russian economy.”

It costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft, Bolden said. The average cost on an American-owned aircraft will be $58 million per astronaut.

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