Humans could be sent one-way to Mars under ambitious plans being investigated by NASA to permanently colonise other planets in space.
Space agency officials confirmed feasability studies were under way to asses whether astronauts could be permanently sent to the red planet, or its moons, to establish human colonies.
The multi-billion pound mission, titled Hundred Years Starship, is being spearheaded by the Ames Research Centre, one of NASA’s main research centres, based in Moffett Field, California.
Officials from the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are also heavily involved in turning the science fiction idea into a reality.
Early estimates put the cost of such a mission, which has “just started” at more than £7 billion and could be achieved by 2030.
Scientists have been given £600,000 government grant – including £100,000 from NASA – to start research into the idea, according to US reports.
The world’s billionaire’s, including Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, have been asked to help fund the project.
Pete Worden, the Ames director, confirmed the plans to a conference in San Francisco at the weekend.
“You heard it here. We hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” he told the Long Conversation event at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds. Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.
“Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”
Such a space journey would take up to nine months with volunteers embarking on the mission knowing they would never return to earth.
This is because the cost of returning astronauts to earth would make the project prohibitively expensive. Supplies would be sent to make them self-sufficient.
Such a mission would be gruelling for humans with forbidding conditions including sub-zero temperatures and a thin atmosphere.