While Mars may seem far away to you and me, NASA believe that humanity is actually closer than it has ever been to the Red Planet.

"It is my firm belief that we are closer to getting there today than we have ever been before in the history of human civilization" head of NASA's mission control, Charles Bolden says. "We are just a few years away from being inside 20 years to the realistic feasibility of putting humans on Mars."

The Obama administration has supported the plan to launch a manned mission to Mars by sometime in the 2030s for years, and has even allocated billions of dollars in an effort to achieve that goal.

"There is a new consensus that is emerging around this timetable and this goal," Bolden says. "This plan is clear, this plan is sustainable and this plan is affordable."

The ultimate goal of a human walking on the surface of the Red Planet is still decades away, but that doesn't mean that NASA isn't already hard at work preparing for the mission and has already hit a number of milestones toward that goal in recent months.

In March, astronaut Scott Kelly was sent to the International Space Station for a record breaking 342-day mission designed to help scientists understand what happens to humans who spend long periods of time in outer space.  Kelly, who is the brother-in-law of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is planning to stay twice as long as any U.S. astronaut have ever spent on the space station.

Despite NASA reaching several milestones in its march to Mars, more still needs to be done.  Recently, it was discovered that long term exposure to cosmic radiation could damage the brains of astronauts as they make the long journey to the Red Planet.  Before any mission can be attempted, NASA must design new shielding methods that will provide astronauts with a much safer means of transportation so they will be able to perform their duties and anticipate and adapt to changes when they reach the surface for the very first time.

That doesn't even to begin to address the issues with how they are actually going to get there and then, of course, land and take off of the surface when they do arrive.

Still, NASA has made great strides as it prepares to send astronauts beyond the confines or our little corner of the solar system and, for the first time, actually explore a new planet by planting the first human footprints on the surface.