Mars is a long way away. It varies, but at it's least, it's about 78 million kilometers (or around 50 million miles) away. It's going to take about two years for the cosmonauts (a more accurate term than astronauts) to get there, with two years on the surface and a further two years trip back. That's going to be six years without seeing the Earth (except through the window or in the sky), six years without seeing their friends, six years in a self-imposed exile from this planet.

They're going to go mad.

NASA face a problem: there is only so much they can take on board. Each additional kilogram costs an enormous sum of money. That magazine is going to cost somewhere between ten and a thousand times as much to send through space as it does to buy it. Only so many CDs can be taken on board, so many books.

There is a solution.

Imagine, if you will, a large dish on the spacecraft. It's quite likely that this spacecraft will already have a dish, so we can just use the existing one. This dish uses a special data transmission protocol to overcome the time lag in sending and recieving. It will send nothing interesting, other than normal PC files. Video, music, pictures and text can all be sent, down the wire, to the cosmonauts. The latest films in the cinemas, delayed by only twelve minutes. The news, keeping them up to date on the happenings back on Earth so they understand the changes when they return. Video messages from friends and families: it will be more like email than sending letters. Music - their old favourites, the new musical tastes that will occur in those six years. Text: an entire library can be uploaded, book by book as they want it. That can include technical manuals, maintenance reports, things that need to be studies, and novels and stort stories. Pictures... well, they need something new to jerk off to. This can work both ways, too... their new musical compositions can be sent back to earth, their stories and diaries, playing about with the video camera... the computer would become the central focus point for entertainment.

Of course, it's awkward to read off a computer screen. And you want your own personal music player. So what they will need is a multimedia tool... I would suggest something which looks something like a Palm Pilot with a speaker in the back. It would be held portrait for portrait pictures and text, and landscape for landscape pictures and video, as well as having a speaker in the back for playing their music collection. It'd plug into the computer to transfer data, as well as getting power from the solar panels.

And I want one of them!

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