Humans may be involved in the next mission to Mars, Nasa has revealed, with preliminary plans suggesting astronauts could be used to bring rocks back from the red planet.
The bold new idea emerged among several options for new Mars explorations presented by a special Nasa team.
It would see a combination of robots and humans used, with a rover being sent to Mars to collect rocks and a team of astronauts launched at a later date in a new and advanced spaceship to return the samples to Earth.
The mission would not see man actually land on the red planet however, but pick the rocks up at a cosmic delivery point somewhere between the two planets.
The space agency is expected to make a decision on what format its next Mars mission will take sometime next year, after two robotic space flights were abandoned due to budget cuts earlier this year.
Nasa’s exploration of Mars has so far been carried out entirely by robots, with the latest mission using the Curiosity rover landing on the planet last month.
The space agency’s goal is to not only study the geology of Mars but someday to bring rocks back to Earth.
Manned space flight has declined in recent years, with it now being almost 40 years since humans walked on the Moon, but Nasa is hoping to send man to Mars some time in the 2030s.
Nasa associate administrator for sciences John Grunsfield said the proposed plan would serve as a partial dry run for a manned flight to Mars.
Utilising a new rocket and spaceship system that would send astronauts somewhere near the red planet it ‘looks a lot like sending a crew to Mars and returning them safely,’ he said.