The Long Journey

After NASA made it to the moon during the Apollo era, many thought that Mars would be next. Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the lunar surface in 1972, predicted we would be there by the end of the 20th century.

We’re still waiting, but sending humans to Mars is now the stated goal of the U.S. government. President Obama has charged NASA with “pushing out into the solar system not just to visit, but to stay.” And Charles Bolden, the NASA administrator, said, “We are closer to getting [to Mars] today than we’ve ever been in the history of human civilization.”

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Oculus Rift for Windows

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  • OS: Windows 8 64-bit+, OSX 10.10+
  • RAM: 8GB+
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  • OS: Windows 8 64-bit+
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  • USB: 3 3.0 ports, 1 2.0 port

There remain obstacles — the great distance, the dangers of space flight, the technical and political challenges of funding missions to space when there are so many problems on Earth. More immediately, there are concerns about the cost and schedule of the Space Launch System and Orion, the vehicles NASA is developing to take humans into deep space. The United States is also working with the private sector to fly astronauts to the International Space Station since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

And yet, NASA has sent orbiters, rovers and landers to Mars for years, probing the planet and snapping photos of a barren landscape at once forbidding and familiar. Landing humans there would represent one of the greatest achievements in the history of civilization, and a steppingstone to answering one of the big questions: Is there life beyond Earth?

It would appear that there are lots of people interested in joining NASA to find out: More than 18,300 people applied to be astronauts in the most recent class, competing for just 14 slots. That smashed the previous record of 8,000, which has stood since 1978.

Explore the surface of Mars and learn the role that the Curiosity Rover plays on the surface, see the potential human habitats and much more.

Meanwhile, a few billionaire entrepreneurs are also reviving interest in space exploration and building their own space companies and rockets. As part of the generation that grew up watching astronauts walk on the moon, they have bet large chunks of their fortunes on a quest to open up the cosmos to the masses.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX with the goal of colonizing Mars. And the vision of founder (and Washington Post owner) Jeffrey P. Bezos, is “millions of people living and working in space.”

With all those efforts underway, many are convinced that the first person to leave footprints on Mars is alive today.

This project was created in partnership with the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. Researchers and students in the Visualization Laboratory of the Texas Advanced Computing Center provided programming and scripting support.

Cameron Blake, Senior VR Producer at The Washington Post, with a VFX and Advertising background, conceptualization and production. • Deepak Chetty, a filmmaker and lecturer in the University of Texas’ UT3D Program, conceptualization and production. • Joshua Brown, Software Engineer at The Washington Post, web development. • Terro Veun, Designer at The Washington Post, web experience. • Mike Stamm, Software Engineer at The Washington Post, web and virtual reality experiences. • Jake Crump, Designer at The Washington Post, web presentation.