Professor's theory of photonic propulsion could get you to Mars in less than a week. Professor's theory of photonic propulsion could get you to Mars in less than a week. Professor's theory of photonic propulsion could get you to Mars in less than a week. (Photo: Igor Zh / Shutterstock)

Could this laser slingshot you to Mars in just 3 days?

Traveling to the Red Planet could take less time than driving across the United States.

Traveling to Mars is no small feat. Depending on the time of year and the alignment of the planets, the journey could take about nine months. But a professor from California says he's figured out a way to use a laser to shoot people up to Mars. The entire flight time? Just three days.

"Photonic propulsion is not a new idea," says Philip Lubin of the University of California Santa Barbara. "There are recent advances which take this from science fiction to science reality. There is no known reason why we cannot do this. There is a roadmap."

Rocket scientists can already get to the speeds they need in the laboratory, but can they get to those speeds on actual spaceships in flight? NASA is working on bridging that gap. That's not all they're working on. In the past year alone, NASA has unveiled a three-step plan for sending astronauts to Mars and asked for the public's help in designing Mars habitats. To help them with their Mars mission, the U.S. space agency has entered into a partnership with Israel, the same country that hosted an international space conference in October, where Mars was a hot topic.

This comes on the heels of the news that Elon Musk, the maverick CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, is working on a ship that can ferry about 100 people to Mars at a time.

Professor Lubin presented his findings in a paper called "A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight" which he presented at a recent space conference in Seattle. The basic idea is that a spaceship is launched using particles of light that would be pushed by giant Earth-based lasers. Lubin notes that the 72-hour trip will work best for unmanned flights. NASA is already working on an an Iron Man-style robot to send to the Red Planet.

And this summer, about 150 space experts will convene at the Technion Institute in Israel for the International Space University forum. “Humanity wants to go to Mars, and I’m glad to be part of this step," said John Connolly, a senior engineer at NASA who is helping to organize the semester-long Israel event. "Space is the next ocean that we want to cross in order to discover what’s just beyond our reach.”

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