A new type of technology may bring Mars and distant planets even closer to home than previously imagined.
The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket -- or VASIMR -- could cut space travel time to nearly a sixth of the time currently required.
While traditional chemical based rockets could bring men to Mars in just over three years, the new VASIMR engine could cut that travel time to just 39 days.
NASA is pinning its hopes on private firms like Ad Astra, developer of the VASIMR, to pioneer novel technologies after the Obama administration cancelled its next manned moon mission.
[NASA was] mesmerized by the Apollo days and lived in the Apollo era for 40 years, and they just forgot developing something new, Ad Astra's chairman, Frank Chang-Diaz, tells AFP.
Diaz said his rockets would use electricity to transform fuel -- hydrogen, helium or deuterium -- into plasma gas that, in turn, would be channeled by magnetic fields and ejected at high speeds.
That would send a shuttle toward distant planets like Mars up to an estimated 35 miles per second until, Diaz told the service.
Additionally, the use of ionized fuel could create a magnetic field around the spacecraft to protect against radiation.
So far, only scaled-down models of the VASIMR have been built and tested in a vacuum, under a deal with NASA.