For the time being, NASA is happy to send rovers and orbiters to study and explore Mars. But eventually the time will come when mankind is going to want to visit the red planet for themselves. And there's a good chance the first human to set foot on Mars could be just an infant right now.
So here's everything you'll need to prepare your own son or daughter to possibly be the first person on Mars one day. Because if there's one thing the Olympics are teaching us right now, it's that it's never too early to force your kids down the road to greatness.
There's not much you can do to train your kids before they're actually able to walk and get around on their own. But you can start getting them comfortable with other worlds and far-away planets with these adorable Celestial Bodies plush toys.
They come in four versions representing the Earth, the moon, the Sun, and most importantly, Mars. And they're a great way to prepare your child for what they might one day be seeing on their voyage through our solar system. $US15.
We don't know what the spacecraft that will take humans to Mars might look like, but it's safe to assume it will be chock full of state-of-the-art guidance and navigation systems that will probably be just as prone to failure as the equipment we use today.
So in the event of such a catastrophe, you can prepare your kid on how exactly to get to Mars using this handy 3D home planetarium. It projects a map of the heavens on the ceiling highlighting the constellations, planets and other important celestial landmarks your child might one day need to rely on to get to their destination. $US40.
So this analogue alternative is the perfect solution. The surface of this 12-inch Mars Globe was assembled from over 6000 images taken by the Viking orbiters, and features 140 labels highlighting the most notable landmarks and features on the planet so visitors can easily find their way around. $US120.
Given they're powered by controlled explosions, rockets can be a bit intimidating. But unless slingshot technology vastly improves in the next 30 years, it will be the only way an astronaut will be able to reach Mars.
So gently ease your kid into the idea of riding atop an explosion-propelled vehicle with an Estes model rocket kit. They not only provide a thrilling five seconds as the model rockets toward the sky -- they also help educate kids about the principles of rocketry, and why the whole thing doesn't just blow to bits on the pad at launch. $US33.
But knowing how a rocket works doesn't necessarily prepare someone for the actual rigours of space travel. You need a simulator for that, and since NASA isn't too keen on 10-year-olds playing with their toys, you need to find a suitable substitute at home.
And what could more accurately recreate what it's like to blast into space than this coin operated rocket ride? It might have been designed well before man landed on the moon, but the rising, diving, and banking motions are sure to prepare anyone for what it feels like at lift-off. It even has built-in sound effects and a yoke for practising their piloting. A childhood spend commandeering this craft would guarantee an easy 'A' on the Nasa entrance exam. $US10,000.
If you've ever seen footage of the astronauts while they're strapped in for launch, you'll notice that they're seated in a very reclined position. But it's not just for comfort -- it's also to elevate their feet above their hearts to facilitate oxygen and blood flow through their bodies during a launch.
It's a seating position that anyone but the incredibly lazy aren't used to. But spending a few years kicking back in this powered leather recliner should more than prepare anyone for what it's like to sit in a space-bound cockpit. Well, maybe not the incredible G-forces, the deafening boom of the engine, the feeling like your skeleton's being shaken out of your body, and the fear of being blasted into an inhospitable vacuum. But pretty close! $US2500.
Alternately, you can disregard all of our home-brew solutions for training your kid to become an astronaut and just send them to Camp Kennedy Space centre where they can learn from professionals who actually know what they're talking about.
The week-long camp has kids controlling motion-based simulators, designing space vehicles and habitats, meeting real-life astronauts, and learning about everything there is to know about space travel from the experts. And for parents it means one less week of a cabin-fevered kid running amuck in their house before school starts. So it's a win for young and old alike. $US295/week.