I believe that to build a spacecraft that would be able to travel to Mars and return, that it would have to be built in orbit around the earth. We do not have to propulsion system available yet, to propel everything that would be needed to get to the planet, like we did with the landings on the moon.
Mars is so far away that it would require a larger system to include everything that the astronauts would need to get there. First just orbit mars. Launch the craft and people who would land on mars to explore an area to collect samples. Return to mars orbit and dock with the craft that has been orbiting and waiting for them. Then return to earth orbit where the could be met by a shuttle like craft to bring them back to earth with all the information and samples that they acquired on their trip.
One part of the space craft, maybe the most important part, may have been developed privately by a veteran astronaut, Franklin Chang Diaz. He has tied for the most amount of time spent in space and has always been interested in space travel. His dream is a Plasma powered craft that would travel up to 123,000 miles per hour or go from New York to Los Angeles in about 1 minute. To read more about Diaz and his engine go to http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-10/123000-mph-plasma-engine-could-finally-take-astronauts-mars and http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6543-magnetic-beams-could-power-swifter-spacecraft.html.
But that would only be one part and it might be too heavy by itself to be lifted into orbit, which would require construction in space along with the craft to carry the crew, the lander, the fuel, the food, water, extra air, etc. etc. Using the present systems of liquid rocket boosters would become too expensive and wasteful so a craft that could take off from earth and then either launch the booster to bring the parts to orbit and return, or more desirable would to have the craft launch like a regular aircraft and go by itself into orbit. This is why I say we need to look for newer means of propulsion, which I know the large engine manufacturers and the US Air Force are looking for. Have they found it yet? I don’t know, but then I am not privy to all this hush-hush information. Someday they will announce it, but only when they need to, to get the craft doing what it needs to do that everyone should know about.
- Microwave and laser beam arrays for space launch (nextbigfuture.com)
- NASA Probe Poised to Set Record for Longest Mars Mission (space.com)
- NASA considering beamed energy propulsion for space launches (engadget.com)
- RAPatton: Amazing images of Martian moon Phobos taken by space probe just 60 miles away | Mail Online (dailymail.co.uk)
- Troubled Japanese Venus Probe May Get Early Shot at Redemption (space.com)