It took NASA's Curiosity Rover 10 months to make the lonely journey from the Earth's Cape Canaveral to the Gale Crater of Mars.
Professor Philip Lubin of the University of California Santa Barbara believes we'll soon be able to take the trip 30 minutes, using propulsion principals that already exist.
Outlining his theory in A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight for the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, Lubin discusses how we can already make tiny objects (really tiny - like individual atoms) reach relativistic speeds coming close to the speed of light in laboratory scenarios. To make these small objects reach such huge speeds, we use about the same amount of energy currently required to put a rocket into space.
Lubin's theory suggest that we aren't very far away from being able to use photonic propulsion to "push" larger objects at speeds near to the speed of light. Lasers would push photons toward a craft with a special sail, where they would deliver a nudge of energy similar to how boats harness the power of the wind.
The physicist's paper outlines that recent breakthroughs in 'direct energy technology' could soon see us pushing a small robotic craft with a sail designed to catch laser light at a speed that would reach Mars in half an hour, and our nearest star Alpha Centauri in about 15 years. The same technology could push a larger payload of 100kg to Mars in a few days.
Lubin and his team are set to continue working on a road map for making the technology a reality for NASA - but there's no suggestion of when they might be able to make a testable model. For further details, best watch this video.