The Planetary Society Releases “Humans Orbiting Mars” Workshop Report

An ‘orbit-first’ approach is a critical step to get humans to the surface of the Red Planet

For Immediate Release
September 29, 2015

Erin Greeson
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

Pasadena, CA (September 29, 2015) -- The Planetary Society today released a report on its ”Humans Orbiting Mars” workshop, which it held in the Spring of 2015. The workshop brought together representatives from NASA, the scientific community, industry, and government to explore a sustainable and affordable path forward for NASA’s human exploration program.

“Amazing news: we could have humans orbiting Mars by 2033, and the astronauts are in school now.” said Bill Nye, CEO at The Planetary Society. “Mars is the next logical destination in the search for life. Such a discovery on that other world would change this one. Let’s go!” Nye added.

A focus of the workshop was a presentation of a proof-of-concept Mars exploration architecture developed by a study team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The study proposed a minimal architecture that would have astronauts orbit Mars and potentially visit the Martian moon Phobos in 2033, followed up by an ongoing series of Mars landings beginning in 2039. The JPL study was done as input to the overall NASA planning process and was presented for the first time at the Society’s Spring workshop.

“Breaking the first human mission to Mars into two pieces, the first of which would orbit Mars and then land on Phobos, allows the costs and risks associated with landing on Mars to be spread out over two separate missions” said Professor Scott Hubbard, workshop chair and Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Stanford University. “This stepwise approach, when combined with the overall debunking of past cost estimates, and assessing scientific and public interest represents a powerful combination of reasons to move forward confidently. Driving this program with clarity, stakeholder convergence, potential international collaboration and commercial opportunities provides a basis for leadership.”

The cost of the JPL study plan was independently analyzed by a team at the Aerospace Corporation, which also provided cost analysis in last year’s National Academies report ‘Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration.’ Using the same methodology as the Pathways report, the Aerospace team concluded that the JPL study team’s plan could get humans to Mars orbit by 2033 under a human spaceflight budget that grew only with inflation—over a decade sooner than the other plans considered by the National Academies.

The report addresses the cost issues, science return, and public engagement potential of an orbit-first approach to the human exploration of Mars. It is written for a wide audience and can be read by any individual with a passion for space.

“We have in place the sound science, skilled professionals and a passionate public needed to get humans to Mars,” said Dr. John Logsdon, workshop co-chair and professor emeritus, Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. “With the right strategy in place—and the political will to achieve it—people can reach the Red Planet in a realistic time frame.”

The Planetary Society is making the report available to the public by launching a multimedia website dedicated to Mars exploration advocacy. In addition to the report, the website offers explanatory video and informational material. For complete details about the Humans Orbiting Mars workshop report, visit that website at:

“NASA must be realistic as it pursues the dream of humans on Mars,” said Casey Dreier, director of advocacy at The Planetary Society. “This sort of pragmatic, affordable approach to Mars will be the cornerstone of The Planetary Society’s advocacy for human spaceflight for years to come.”

Media Resources

Related Past News: Bill Nye & The Planetary Society Announce “Humans Orbiting Mars” Workshop Results; Senior Space Community Professionals Address Strategy to Send Humans to Mars

Humans Orbiting Mars Report:
Video:  Humans Orbiting Mars Workshop

Details of the JPL Study Team’s Mars Architecture as presented to the NASA Advisory Council


To request an interview with a Planetary Society spokesperson, please contact [email protected].

About The Planetary Society

With a global community of more than 2 million space enthusiasts, The Planetary Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization. Founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman and today led by CEO Bill Nye, we empower the public to take a meaningful role in advancing space exploration through advocacy, education outreach, scientific innovation, and global collaboration. Together with our members and supporters, we’re on a mission to explore worlds, find life off Earth, and protect our planet from dangerous asteroids. To learn more, visit