President Barack Obama says with the help of private companies, the United States will send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
In an op-ed published on CNN.com, Obama wrote, "We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America's story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time."
Obama said an effective public-private partnership that is essential to transporting humans to Mars is already under way. U.S. companies, he said, already own more than one-third of the global commercial launch market. And within two years, Obama said, private companies will send astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time.
FILE - In this frame grab taken from NASA Television, a SpaceX Dragon capsule separates from a robotic arm of the International Space Station en route back to Earth with a load of science experiments and gear from the space station, Aug. 26, 2016.
Obama said the U.S. government is already working with commercial partners to construct new habitats that can accommodate humans on extended space missions.
"These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we'll need for the long journey to Mars," Obama wrote.
FILE - SpaceX founder Elon Musk tells the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, that he envisions 1,000 passenger ships flying en masse to Mars and says it could become reality within a century, Sept. 27, 2016.
Obama cautioned it will take years to prepare for a trip to Mars, including educating the next generation of workers who would help make the trip a reality.
"For the first time, more than 100,000 engineers are graduating from American schools every year, and we're on track to accomplish my goal of training 100,000 excellent new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers in a decade."
The president said stronger leadership of the space program will lead to new scientific advances and provide a better understanding of the human race and Earth's environment.
When humans have gone to Mars to stay, Obama said the advances that got them there will "make our lives better here on Earth."
FILE - This color image taken August 8, 2012 from NASA's Curiosity rover, and released August 13, shows part of the wall of Gale Crater, the location on Mars where the rover landed on August 5, 2012.