It may sound like science fiction, but scientists might have found a way to get us to Mars quicker than your whole day commute. Researchers at NASA are developing a theoretical laser-based propulsion system, which it’s hoped will eliminate the need for fuel and could accelerate spacecraft up to 26% of the speed of light At that pace a small probe could get to Mars in just 30 minutes, and in 15 years it could make the death-defying four light year long journey to Alpha Centauri, our nearest star.
For the sake of comparison, our current technology would take around four to eight months to get to Mars. Meanwhile it took the Voyager 1 deep space probe an incredible 35 years to reach the edge of our solar system, as it’s only travelling at about 0.006% of the speed of light. Philip Lubin, a cosmologist at the University of California claims that building the laser propulsion system is very doable, adding: “There is no known reason why we cannot do this.”
Unluckily there are issues regarding the scale of the device. Right now we have laser amplifiers about the size of a textbook, but Lubin believes you’d need a six-square-mile array of lasers and amplifiers floating out in Earth’s orbit to be powerful enough to beam even a gram-sized spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in 15 years. And the bad news is it doesn’t solve another pretty big problem, which is stopping when you get to where you want to go – scientists have no idea how you’d actually begin to slow down. So maybe the idea needs a bit more work.