Wired has an interesting overview of a new initiative to send a manned, no-frills manned mission to Mars in 2018. The crew wouldn’t land on Mars, but instead would fly by the planet and then return to Earth. The entire trip would take approximately 500 days and the crew would face near-constant threats from solar radiation and micro-meteors. Whether the private Inspiration Mars Foundation has the necessary funds to pull this off is an open question.
The concept may seem daft at first blush, but its simplicity has a certain elegance. Government space agencies aren’t showing much interest in manned spaceflight, so this may be the best chance for me to witness humans venture reasonably close to Mars in my lifetime.