SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- NASA says feasibility studies are looking at whether astronauts could be sent on permanent, one-way missions to Mars or its moons to colonize them.
NASA's Ames Research Center, based in Moffett Field, Calif., is spearheading the studies, The Daily Telegraphs reported.
Ames Director Pete Worden confirmed the studies at a conference in San Francisco last weekend, the British newspaper said.
"The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds," Worden said.
"Twenty years ago, you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.
"Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds."
Such a journey to Mars would take up to nine months with volunteers embarking on the mission knowing they would never return to Earth because the cost of returning astronauts home would make the project prohibitively expensive.
Supplies would be continuously sent to make them self-sufficient.
Two researchers suggest four volunteer astronauts could undertake the first mission to permanently colonize Mars.
"There are many reasons why a human colony on Mars is a desirable goal, scientifically and politically," Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University and Paul Davies of Arizona State University said.
The two admit such a mission would come with considerable "ethical considerations."