The first Mars explorers could well be equipped with Wi-Fi-enabled PCs.

NASA has begun field-testing a mobile Wi-Fi system in an Arizona meteor crater. The system would allow those on a Mars mission to easily deploy wireless data connectivity at a transmission rate of just more than a Mbps over a two square-mile area, and then change that coverage area at will through the use of mobile access points, according to a report in Wired.

Senior research engineer Marc Seibert explains that the purpose behind the technology would be almost entirely for scientific data collection. Because the wireless connectivity would allow the astronauts to easily transmit data back to Earth, scientists at mission control could evaluate the data as they come in and then direct the astronauts to new experiments on the fly.

The space agency is reassuring US citizens that astronauts will not be wasting taxpayer dollars by ducking behind rocks to surf the Web – because transmissions back and forth to Earth will be subject to a lag of five minutes or more.

Seifert said: "There's a real issue of how you entertain astronauts in their downtime. But I would not anticipate them doing Internet-based entertainment functions in their downtime."