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Mars Society Calls for Students Worldwide to Compete

The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends more than 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep. (Viking Project)
The U.S.-based Mars Society called on university students around the world to help advance plans for a manned mission to the planet during the 16th Annual International Mars Society Convention in the U.S. state of Colorado.

It has been about six months since the non-profit Inspiration Mars Foundation, founded by space tourist and multi-millionaire Dennis Tito, proposed launching a manned mission toward Mars in five years. The plan calls for one man and one woman to fly within 160 kilometers of Mars and return to Earth.

While the crew is slated to be American, the process of getting to Mars is an international endeavor.

The president of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, announced a competition that calls on teams of students around the world to design a two-person Mars flyby mission that could be launched in 2018.

Designs will be judged on their cost, quality, simplicity and ability to launch in five years. The U.S. space agency, NASA, the Mars Society and Inspiration Mars will choose the judges.

Zubrin said both the contest and a Mars flyby have the power to spur innovation.

"We need to mobilize the talent of the world in support of this mission," said Zubrin. "Inspiration Mars, in part, was set up to inspire people and show how the challenge of humans to Mars could inspire a new generation to want to develop their minds to become scientists, engineers, technological entrepreneurs and researchers."

A Mars Society press release says the design competition is open to university engineering students worldwide. While teams can include alumni, professors and others, the bulk of the teams must be made up of students. Finalists would present their ideas at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

Zubrin notes that he is not part of Inspiration Mars, but he considers its mission to be "bold yet realistic," with enough resources to succeed.