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Europe partners with U.S. to build spacecraft capable of traveling to Mars

If astronauts are planning a mission to Mars, it will require the coordinated efforts of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the U.S.-based space agency NASA, according to an announced partnership between the two bodies.

In a statement released Wednesday by NASA and the ESA officials, the next generation of spacecraft will be a coordinated effort between the pair of space agencies. The Orion spacecraft — the cornerstone of the agency’s Constellation Program which aims to explore the moon, Mars and beyond — will be built in two parts — one led by ESA and the other led by NASA.

“Today you get to see the first step of a cooperation as we look beyond lower orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s deputy director for manned exploration. “Space exploration has to be international.”

The joint program will allocate all the propulsion and power compartment projects for NASA’s new Orion crew capsule to ESA, while NASA will oversee the rest of the project.

The project is seen as the future for the space industry. NASA, stripped of much of its public funding, has resorted to partnering up with various private companies and foreign governments in an effort to continue its space exploration program. Currently, the U.S.-based space agency relies on Russian space technology to keep the International Space Station supplied while it continues work on its next generation of reusable spacecraft.

The partnership is the latest indication that future space projects, which continue to test the boundaries of science and technology, may require international coordination. The latest partnership between the U.S. and Europe follows in the wake of a published report that noted NASA’s $18-billion budget would not cover the cost of building the Orion space capsule.

Orion’s first trip is an unmanned mission in 2017. NASA plans to use Orion to carry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2018, and could begin trips outside of low-Earth orbit shortly thereafter. NASA’s current exploration plan calls for the Orion-SLS system to send humans to a near-Earth asteroid in the mid-2020s, and to Mars and its moons in the 2030s. Any extra European parts will be incorporated in the first manned mission of Orion in 2021, according to NASA space agency officials.

The announcement comes as NASA has begun working in coordination with a number of international space agencies. The space agency has worked in the past with various countries, including Japan, Russia, and Europe.