A composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mars’ Mount Sharp, taken Sept. 9, 2015, by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

The U.S. government is partnering with private space companies to send humans to Mars by the 2030s, President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday.

In an op-ed for CNN, the president said the ultimate goal is for humans to eventually be able to remain on Mars for "an extended time."

We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.

Obama published the op-ed two days ahead of the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh. The president will host the Oct. 13 event, which will bring together America’s top scientists, engineers, innovators and students to "dream up ways to build on our progress and find the next frontiers," Obama wrote in the op-ed.

Obama reflected on what it would mean for him to look up into space with his future grandchildren. He said one of his earliest memories is sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders — years before man set foot on the moon — and waving a flag as U.S. astronauts returned to Hawaii.

Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders. We’ll still look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time. But instead of eagerly awaiting the return of our intrepid explorers, we’ll know that because of the choices we make now, they’ve gone to space not just to visit, but to stay — and in doing so, to make our lives better here on Earth.

Obama’s goal to send humans to the Red Planet within two decades isn’t new.

NASA in 2010 set goals to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. The U.S. space agency said last year it was already developing the capabilities needed to make such journeys possible.

Image: NASA

Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, has said the first passengers to Mars could take off as soon as 2024 — so long as his company can build the rocket and habitats needed to fling humans at least 33.9 million miles, or 54.6 million kilometers, from Earth to Mars.

Musk laid out his Mars vision in September during at talk at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

He estimated it would cost $10 billion to develop a rocket capable of taking humans to Mars. Each SpaceX vehicles would take 100 passengers on the Mars-bound journey, with trips planned every 26 months. Musk said tickets might cost $500,000 at first before declining steadily over time.

Still, Musk admitted that SpaceX probably wouldn’t accomplish this vision on its own. "Ultimately, this is going to be a huge public-private partnership," he said during the talk.

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