If NASA's virtual world gambit seems like a pipe dream, there's no doubt that astronauts traveling to Mars, or returning to the Moon, will enjoy a wealth of tech communications options that the Apollo crews couldn't have imagined.
Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, says that with high-resolution videocameras, podcasts and web forums, the first Mars invaders could stage the ultimate reality show, with some becoming super-icons back on Earth.
Just knowing that their every move is being watched by a rapt audience at home could help the Mars voyagers find the strength to solider on in the face of "long-term conditions of isolation, privation and psychological stress," says Robert Zubrin, author of The Case for Mars and founder of The Mars Society.
"The psychological boost enjoyed by Mars-bound astronauts of knowing that they are 'golden people,' celebrated as heroes by millions on Earth, cannot be overstated," says Zubrin.
NASA's Laughlin, though, is committed to giving astronauts a more interactive experience. They might even be able to tap the internet from Mars to order Christmas gifts from e-Bay or cards from northpole.com for delivery to friends still on their home world, he says. Or they might download the latest singles from iTunes or e-books from Amazon.com.
Of course, with a single interplanetary TCP handshake clocking in at 12 to 60 minutes, the Mars mission will probably want to use One-Click.