More than having the available technology, it is a political game. It more depends on if the politicians will give the space programs adequate funding, and whether or not the general population is interested. While George W. Bush was in office, NASA received a great deal of funding, which now has been cut.
We have the technology to be able to send a human to Mars now, it is just a matter of deciding to do so, and making the funding available. It is a very long trip and there are many hurdles, but it could totally be possible. It would be interesting to see if a colony could be established to sustain human life on Mars.
If governments keep funding space exploration programs, I believe we will have the capabilities as a species to set foot on Mars. Look how fast we gained the technology to walk on the moon. One of the main factors of not sending a human to Mars is the travel time, which can be significantly reduced if modern day technologies refined and developed further.
We have had the technological capability to send someone to Mars since the 1970s. The challenges has been funding and willpower. The United States let its own space shuttle program shut down. However, this will not prevent an ascendant China from using American technology and Mars colonization plans (like those from the Mars Society and British Interplanetary Society) to send their own people to Mars. We will likely see someone on Mars, but they will likely be Chinese.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) has already sent many successful missions to Mars, aimed at finding the possibility of life and finding clues to Mars' past and environment for life. During the most recent successful mission, the Mars Rovers have been able to set a surface longevity record. In 2004, the U.S. government announced a new vision for Space research, naming a manned Mars mission as one of the greatest milestones.
From a scientific point of view, reaching Mars is not impossible. The techniques used to land on the Moon can be used also for Mars. What makes the travel difficult, both from a human and technological point of view is its length. However, we can hope that the forthcoming simulation of a travel toward Mars (500 days in isolation) will give precious insight in the dynamics of a very small group of astronauts confined for a long time a in small spaceship. I believe that is the most critical issue, but I'm confident they can do it.
As long as we keep investing in space exploration I don't see why we couldn't get a man on Mars soon since we have already managed to put a Rover on the planet. The expense is justified because it gives us something to dream and strive for and takes us out of our tiny brains and limited horizons. It gives us a purpose that is bigger than any one person and requires the input of the best and the brightest of us.
Ray Kurzweil, a well known futurist, proposes that the exponential rate of advancement, both technological or otherwise, follows an exponential curve. This curve is a determining factor for projects like making it to Mars. There is currently a project for 2018 to go to Mars (a man and a woman), and although there may be set backs it probably will happen by 2020. But adding in the factor of exponential increase in the rate of advancements, it could be sooner for all we know.
There is already a mission that has been set in motion and will take place in the 2020's. It is an internationl mission with two waves. The first wave will deliver 4 people and the second mission will deliver another 4. These people have volunteered to live the remainder of their lives on Mars.
It's already in motion, so Yea.
I believe that, at the current rate of scientific advancement, a human might walk on Mars by the year 2020. We might even find the resources to stock Mars with water, arrange for heating systems, and populate Mars as a colony, by the year 2050. Of course, they might have to restore the funding to NASA for any of this.
Though, it would be great to have a colony by 2020, it would not be a good idea. Interplanetary Technology needs more time for design development thus I do not believe that It will happen. If I ran a space program and I wanted to colonize mars, I would want to do so around 2030-35 just for the sake of build time and new technology. Plus, as a little side note, I would send about 4 maybe 6 people. The more people you have for testing the martian surface, the better. :)
The technology is already available to do this. The greater issue is whether any nation will be willing to commit the very substantial resources needed to make it happen. Given the very poor worldwide economy, and the substantial lead time needed for such an ambitious project, I do not think that any country will commit the resources soon enough to do this by 2020.
Both the United States and Russia, the world's leaders in space exploration, have slashed funding to their space programs. Further cuts are planned, and these governments do not see space exploration as a priority so it is extremely unlikely that either the U.S. or Russia are planning manned trips to Mars.
Although the rate of scientific advancement is outstanding, it is going to take a few more decades to accomplish putting someone on Mars. The data collection process of the Mars environment alone is going to take at least until 2020. We have no idea how long a person could sustain being in that environment, so we may have underestimated the timeline of accomplishing this goal.
The U.S. program to send humans to the moon and back indicates that Mars and back by 2020 is almost certainly within our capability. But, the political will does not exist for such a venture in the U.S. Other countries likely also lack the will (Russia or members of the European Space Agency), or don't yet quite have the technical capability (China). I wouldn't be surprised, though, if China was the first to accomplish the task as a way to emphasize that it has become a top tier nation, in terms of science and technology.
If you factor in how long a trip to Mars would take, even with the fastest spaceship available, the trip will take a long time, and there just is not enough of a demand or money for the project to get done that fast. Considering how long NASA's preparations for a major mission can take, if we have not already heard of them planning a trip to Mars, then it is not going to happen within 9 years.
I don't think a human will walk on Mars by 2020 because the agencies that are capable of sending a human to Mars and walking on the surface of it are having budget problems that don't provide for enough funds to make such a project possible. I think the most interesting space research in the near future will come from private investors, and for them to send a person to Mars will probably take longer than 10 years, and you would probably have to leave in 8 or 9 years to get to Mars by 2020.
The US is the most advanced in terms of technology and space missions in the world. I think right now the US is more focused on exploring the moon for evidence of water - past or present, so missions to Mars will have to wait for at least another three decades.
Other countries are not as advanced as the US in terms of technology, even if they are financially secure and so they too, will have to wait until their level of technology equals the US, which, in my opinion, will also take at least three decades. This is why I do not believe that humans will walk on the moon in another ten years, i.e. by the year 2020.
I think that the space program, even with the current shuttles going up and sustained living on the ISS, has a lot of work to do before it could try another manned rocket into space, especially by the year 2020. I kind of have doubts about even another trip to the moon. The space program is too precarious, the cost, the loss of human life -- these things, combined with the scientific aspects of it make it seem unlikely in ten years. Getting to Mars and landing a manned craft just seems highly unlikely.
2020 is really not that far way. Heck, 2010 will be over before we know it. And, although great advances are being made in all areas of life, I don't think that we are moving that fast. Science will continue to evolve, and new knowledge will be continuously gained. But, huge advances take time. We will definitely get closer to seeing someone walk on Mars. But, I don't think it will actually happen. Maybe something really close could occur. But, having someone actually walk across Mars - I think it will be more than ten years before that happens.