Yes, NASA is serious about heading to Mars. The visit is not going to be a matter of stepping on the planet and coming back to Earth in a jiffy. NASA has awarded a whopping $65 million that is spread over six companies for the purpose of developing deep-space habitat. Deep-space habitat could be used to on the way to the Mars and on the surface as well.
There is an ongoing partnership programme under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems named NEXTStep. This programme funds private research into technology to explore more about space.
Last year there were different things that NEXTStep concentrated on, but this year it has one thing- “deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth”. The previous year’s contract amounted to $15 that was divided in 10 ways. However, this year $65 million is divided in six ways. Hence, the number got bigger. The companies that are in charge are approaching in different ways to solve various problems of deep-space habitat.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module was recently connected to the International Space Station. This company plans to develop 20 times larger XBASE.
NASA did not disclose how much each project was receiving or deliverables expected from each. However, results are expected after 24 months are up.