Ready for some interplanetary exploration? We've had the force shields
, and refuel stations
all sorted out for a while, and now here come the ion thrusters we've been missing to make manned trips to Mars really viable. Currently, a return journey to Mars can take up to two years, with crew members having to wait a full year for the planets to realign, but with ion propulsion -- which uses electricity to accelerate ions and produce small but longevous thrust -- ships can get there within a reasonably tight 39-day window. Ion propulsion rocket engines were first deployed successfully by NASA in the Deep Space 1 probe in 1998, and the latest iteration's successful Earth-bound testing has led to plans for a flight to the moon and use on the International Space Station as test scenarios for the technology. It's all still very much in the early stages, of course, but should all that testing, checking, and refinement bear fruit, we might finally have a whole new world to colonize and sell sneakers on.