Is this how we're going to get a man to Mars and back? Scientists at Imperial College London have designed a two-part concept spacecraft intended to carry a crew of three on a journey to the Red Planet. The trio of astronauts--who would need a full-on radiation shield along with the craft's heat shield--would be brought back to Earth using a vessel that had pre-landed on Mars, and would use ice from beneath the surface of the planet as fuel by splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis.
There are several flaws in this scheme, however. After touching down somewhere close to the planet's equator, the crew would have to undergo a trek of several hundred miles to reach the return ship, which would land somewhere on the planet where the ice is just inches below the surface and easily mineable by robotic devices. Does it all sound a bit iffy? Well, the concept behind the trip is actually part of a BBC documentary, How To Put A Human On Mars, that will be shown this weekend on BBC World News.
It is, however, an interesting exercise for space fans, as it shows what is and isn't possible in terms of traveling to a new planet. Anyone only interested in the concrete should, perhaps, focus on existing Mars-related programs in the works, most notably Mars One, and Elon Musk's SpaceX project.