Slashdot reports the VASIMR ion engine could cut a trip to Mars to just 39 days, compared to six months by conventional rocket power. The engine will be tested on the ISS in 2013, and according to a Canadian astronaut the technology is close to the point where it could be tested on a flight to the moon.
Because Mars and Earth only pass close together every two years, space experts have always assumed a crew would have to travel one way, wait a year, then fly back the next time the planets were close together - raising huge problems for food, air and water storage.
But ion drive could make a return trip possible during a single close approach of Earth and Mars.
“We built an ion propulsion engine down in Houston,” said Chris Hadfield, a veteran Canadian astronaut.
“A whole bunch of countries (were involved), but Canada has one of the main pieces of hardware. And this engine can get us to Mars in 39 days.
“And this just happened in the last couple of weeks.”