London: UK scientists have designed a concept mission to land astronauts on Mars by 2021 - 12 years before NASA expects to send a manned mission to the Red Planet.
The plan envisages a three-person crew journeying to Mars aboard a small two-part craft.
NASA says they will get on Mars at the earliest by 2033, but scientists at Imperial College, London have come up with a mission that could land on the planet eight years.
According to Professor Tom Pike, the leader of the London team, the trip would be the next major step for mankind in space and create a Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin for the 21st Century.
"We have now come up with a mission concept that uses both robots and humans to get us to Mars and back. The robots will be sent to the northern plains of Mars, with a rocket to get back to Earth but without fuel," Pike wrote in an article for `The Sun`.
"Sending the tanks empty saves a huge amount of mass on launch. Instead, the robots will dig up ice on Mars. Once the ice is melted, we can use solar electricity to produce hydrogen and oxygen to fill the fuel tanks. Better still, combining hydrogen with the atmosphere can make powerful methane," Pike wrote in the article.
According to Pike, a three-person crew will then launch and in the nine months it takes to get from Earth to Mars, without weight from gravity, muscles weaken and bones become brittle - they need artificial gravity.
He said it can be done by splitting the spacecraft into two, tied together by a tether, and spinning the parts around each other.
With the right spin speed, they will be fooled into thinking they feel gravity, he said.
The landing on Mars will be an extreme ride lasting just a few minutes. The landing module will approach Mars at 22530.8kph, said Pike.
He said the atmosphere will reduce the speed to 1126.5kph, then parachutes with rockets will slow the module, landing in the warmest place on Mars, near the equator.
Pike said in order to return, the crew will have to journey about 1600km north via rover from their landing site to the return rocket.