Forty-five years after Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, NASA scientists are looking forward to the next giant leap for mankind, and that next leap is likely to be on Mars.
"It was 45 years ago that Neil Armstrong took the small step on to the surface of the moon," NASA noted on its site today. "We stand on a new horizon, poised to take the next giant leap -- deeper into the solar system. As we develop and test new tools of 21st century spaceflight on the human Path to Mars, we once again will change the course of history."
Nearly five decades since Armstrong stepped on the moon on July 20, 1969, and uttered, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," the space agency is celebrating the historical landmark and looking ahead to what's still to come.
"Today, at NASA, we're working on the next giant leap -- a human mission to Mars, standing on the shoulders of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins," wrote NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a blog post. "Around this 45th anniversary, we look ahead on our path to Mars and the milestones within our grasp. We're treading that path with a stepping stone approach that takes the extraordinary work our crews have been doing aboard the space station for more than 13 years preparing us to travel farther into our solar system."
Bolden noted that technology drives space exploration. "We'll be testing new technologies in the proving ground of deep space on our mission to an asteroid, eventually becoming Earth independent as we reach Mars," he said.
After the Apollo mission, scientists built on that technology to create a new era of space exploration - an era that included building the International Space Station, launching the space shuttles and the Hubble Space Telescope, sending robotic rovers to Mars and sending Voyager 1 into interstellar space.
The space station, which flies about 250 miles above the Earth, is a critical tool in giving scientists the information they need about living, working, growing food and thriving for long periods of time in space.
To help send astronauts into deep space and get them safely home again, scientists are working on the Orion spacecraft, as well as the heavy-life rocket, known as the Space Launch System. Together, they are designed to take humans farther into the solar system than they have ever traveled.
"They are our spaceship to Mars and beyond," NASA noted.
One of the next big steps into deep space will be to explore a near-Earth asteroid.
Last month, the space agency announced that in four years, scientists will pick an asteroid to capture and a year afterward it expects to launch a robotic spacecraft to direct the asteroid into an orbit around the moon.
Not long after that, astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft, are expected to explore that asteroid and return to Earth with samples.
When humans reach Mars, scientists are hopeful that they will be able to answer such fundamental questions as does life exist beyond Earth? Could humans live on Mars in the future?
"This next decade of exploration will be an exciting time of rapid technological development and testing," NASA noted. "In December 2014, we'll conduct the first test flight of Orion."
This article, 45 years after moon landing, NASA looks to next giant leap, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.