When the first humans travel to Mars, the journey will be dangerous. Perhaps the most dangerous part will be the landing; the thin Martian atmosphere makes it extremely difficult to slow down a heavy spacecraft carrying humans. To minimize the danger, the first missions to Mars might not have people land on the surface at all. Instead, they might orbit the Red Planet, and control virtual robots working down below. Just imagine how much science Martian rovers controlled by humans could get done, all from the safety of orbit - at a fraction of the cost of actually setting foot on the planet.
So near, yet so far. I really hope this isn't the way it happens. Enough with robots; despite their advantages, current and readily foreseeable generations don't begin to approximate the flexibility of human explorers. By all means, let's continue to send probes to the outer solar system -- but Mars can be ours if we want it.
More Mars news:
Nasa outlines manned Mars vision
The "Mars ship" would be assembled in low-Earth orbit using three to four Ares V rockets - the new heavy-lift launch vehicle that Nasa has been developing.
Notionally despatched in February 2031, the mission's journey from Earth to Mars would take six to seven months in a spacecraft powered by an advanced cryogenic fuel propulsion system.
Estimates of the cost of mounting a manned Mars mission vary enormously, from $20bn to $450bn.
That last line doesn't bode well. My understanding is that the outrageously pricey $450 billion price-tag originated with a study group under Bush, Sr.'s administration and was eliminated years ago.