A century ago, the first transatlantic flight took about 23 days. Soon, we could reach Mars in about as long. The key: perfecting laser technology. NASA scientist Philip Lubin says that by swapping out the current fuel-based rocket propulsion system with one relying on photons would significantly boost our space travel speeds, reports Reuters. Science Alert explains it like this: Particles of light from lasers in Earth's orbit would reflect off a "large, reflective sail" on a spacecraft and produce a thrust capable of sending it toward a destination at insane speeds. Lubin estimates a 220-pound probe could reach Mars in as little as 72 hours, reports Wired. A bigger, manned spacecraft would take about a month; experts believe the Space Launch System currently in development could take humans to Mars in about five months.
If all that isn't intriguing enough, Lubin says "photonic propulsion" opens up the possibility of travel outside our solar system, per Space.com. "The human factor of exploring the nearest stars and exoplanets would be a profound voyage for humanity, one whose non-scientific implications would be enormous," Lubin writes in a study. "There are recent advances that take this from science fiction to science reality," he adds in a YouTube video. "There is no known reason why we cannot do this." (NASA says there will be humans on Mars by the 2030s.)