NASA's Robert Cabana talks landing on Mars in Minneapolis

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It’s been a long journey from the fields of Minnesota to the depths of outer space. But for Hall of Fame astronaut Robert Cabana, it’s a trip that all started right in the Twin Cities. Cabana talked to a packed house open to the public at the University of Minnesota on Tuesday.

“I used to sit off the end of the runway out at what was then Wold-Chamberlain field Minneapolis St. Paul International. There was a naval air station there and watch the A-4’s and P-4 Neptunes go in and out and I just wanted to fly airplanes.”

Before long, he was also flying space shuttles, commanding some of NASA’s most memorable flights. And now at his current post as Director of the Kennedy Space Center, he has his sights set squarely on Mars.

“The next big step is we are going to put boots on mars, that’s our ultimate goal,” Cabana said. “And in order to get there we are building the space launch system along with the Orion Spacecraft, a habitability module, and a lander one day to get to Mars.”

Cabana took the audience through a brief history of the space program including a behind the scenes look at everything from docking with the space station to how astronauts exercise in zero gravity. But through it all he made one thing clear -- despite the end of the shuttle program, space he says is still a priority.

“The United States is a world leader and part of being a world leader in space, and we are leading in space,” he said.