Image of Mars from Mars Express. Credit: ESA
Image of Mars from Mars Express. Credit: ESA

Space Exploration

Dennis Tito Wants to Send Human Mission to Mars in 2018

21 Feb , 2013 by

According to a press release posted on SpaceRef and NASAWatch, Dennis Tito — the first-ever space tourist — is planning to send a human mission to Mars in January 2018 on a round-trip journey lasting 501 days. The trip would be timed to take advantage of the launch ‘window’ when Mars and Earth reach a position in their respective orbits that offers the best trajectory between the two planets.

Reportedly, Tito has created a new nonprofit company called the Inspiration Mars Foundation to facilitate the mission. The mission is intended to “generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration.”

(2/21/13 13:00 UTC) We have an update on this news below:

Tito, along with several other notable people from the space community will provide more information in a press conference set for Wednesday, February 27th. Also at the press conference will be Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter who were members of the Biosphere-2 project, and who are with the Paragon Space Development Corporation, which creates life-support systems, and Jonathan Clark, a medical researcher at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, who may discuss the dangers from radiation to humans in deep space. The press conference will be moderated by journalist Miles O’Brien.

Tito paid about $20 million to visit the International Space Station in 2001.

Another endeavor, the Mars One project, wants to create a human settlement on Mars by 2023.

Spaceflight expert Jeff Foust did a some digging, and posted some insights about this story in his NewSpace Journal. Foust obtained a copy of a paper Tito plans to present at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March, which discusses conference, a crewed free-return Mars mission that would fly by Mars – no going into orbit or landing. Such a 501-day mission would launch in January 2018, “using a modified SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket,” Foust writes. “According to the paper, existing environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) technologies would allow such a spacecraft to support two people for the mission, although in Spartan condition. ‘Crew comfort is limited to survival needs only. For example, sponge baths are acceptable, with no need for showers,’ the paper states.”

One of the paper’s co-authors is NASA Ames director Pete Worden, the paper outlines how NASA would also have a role in this mission in terms of supporting key life support and thermal protection systems, even though this is a private-sector effort. No estimates of what such a mission would cost are included in the paper, but it does say it would be financed privately. The paper adds that if they miss this favorable 2018 opportunity, the next chance to take advantage of this lower energy trajectory would be in 2031.

Read more in Foust’s NewSpace Journal.

We’ll provide more information when it becomes available.

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By  -        
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

44 Responses

  1. GregtheThird says:

    Only 5 years to get this mission together? Sounds like the effort is bound to fail. Nevertheless it is good to hear that someone is willing to try.
    It does make you think of how feckless the government has become since Apollo. It is no longer at the forefront of developments in manned endeavors in the solar system, but taking a back seat to private interests. The potential downside if corporations develop space they will probably make a claim to privatize assets that they develop. They alone and not the nation would reap the benefits and inordinate profits that would follow. For example a single asteroid could hold more gold than what the U.S. has stored in fort Knox. If you think corporations have inordinate power and wealth now, just think of what this kind of future might mean.

    • danangel says:

      Corporations built our civilization and are not entities unto themselves. Today’s corporations are mostly owned by average people through their private and union pensions and even government retirement plans (TSP). If you have any investments or a 401k, you own a part of a corporation. Even if you just keep money in a bank, they are investing in corporations.

      I welcome anyone who has the foresight to push the frontier and get humans off this rock. I don’t care at all if it is done by private enterprise, if, after all is said and done, we move on. I hope they make tons of money, so they will send more and more people off planet.

      • Shootist says:

        You are, of course, correct. It is frightening to me how many of my fellow citizens think otherwise, however (and, as bad or worse, how the political class encourages such wobbly thinking in their followers).

      • GregtheThird says:

        This was more a lament against how grossly inefficient and inept the government has become than an anti-corporate rant. Your understanding of who actually runs corporations and how they really behave sounds quiet naive. Have you ever worked as a mid-level in a large corporation before and seen how the execs treat their inferiors and what they say about them behind closed doors? Have you seen how large international corporations exploit their foreign workers and disregard their rights? Did you read about how workers were treated in the U.S. and abroad before the labor and progressive movements? Do you realize that one primary motives of a corporation is to cut the quality of a product and that can mean safety standards in order to lower production costs and make more profit? A corporation is an amoral entity by definition, which means with lax government oversight it can and does easily become immoral. Allowing them to become too big such that they aquire enough wealth to influence legislation in their favor will inevitably result in disasterous consequences such as the trillions of dollars of wealth lost in the housing bubble. Corporations are fine tools of efficiency but they need tight government regulation. Not wanting to see them acquire enough wealth and with it power to circumvent their necessary tight regulation is a healthy and realistic point of view. Therefore the government should lead the way in profitable endeavors, such as mining asteroids, so that all of the people of the nation reap the benefits and not just a privileged few.

      • pollydextrous says:

        But the “ownership” of corporations by private/union pensions, retirement plans, 401K, etc. isn’t “real”. If you have investment in a company, you only own an interest in their financial results, not in their fixtures, fittings, or intellectual property.

      • “…are not entities unto themselves” <- tell that to the US government and judicial system. Corporations have more rights legally in this country than people. Literally.

    • Aqua4U says:

      Got co-ordinates and orbital parameters for that gold bearing asteroid? Only trace amounts of gold have been identified in meteorites or through spectroscopic analysis of asteroids… It IS possible we will eventually find an asteroid with more than a trace, maybe in a hundred years or so?

    • Only 8 years to get man on to the Moon when we have just put Al Shepard for 15mins in space???

  2. zkank says:

    Bravo to the private sector!
    That’s the adventure and exploration spirit of our ancestors – Motivated!

    With NASA’s current manned Mars schedule a dart-throw into somewhere in the 2030’s, and with perpetual budget cuts regularly pushing dates back for everything, it would never get done!
    (Or, China, Russia, ESA, or even India would beat us.)

  3. Jstone says:

    Mars One, Mars Direct, and now Inspiration Mars? I wish these disparate private projects would unify money and manpower. Would stand a much greater chance of success.

    • Dan Johnson says:

      Yes, assuming they can all agree. Dennis Tito at least has a lot of money so in my opinion is better situated to pulling this off. Tito is 72 years old and has similar net worth to Elon Musk (several hundred million dollars).

  4. I haven’t heard of the details, but what comes to mind is a simple flyby mission. More feasible near term than landing on the surface. Might be able to fly close and stand on the craft with a suit on with Mars encompassing the sky. It would be a spectacular sight. I had the idea of a sample return mission launching from the surface and having an astronaut catching the capsule with his/her hands from orbit. An inspiring acheivement with good practice on deep spaceflight. Who knows, we shall see.

  5. Dampe says:

    We’d have better chance playing pickup sticks with out butt-cheeks, than we would having a human mission to Mars by 2018.

    • Dan Johnson says:

      Keep in mind that a private endeavor to reach Mars with humans doesn’t require the safety and stringent government regulations of a NASA mission. If someone wants to risk their life and try to be first, it can be done far more quickly and cheaply. Mt. Everest is a good example (many died before it was accomplished). Traveling across the Atlantic in 1492 is another. There are many more. Many, many well qualified people who would be willing to go even if they knew they only had a 1 in 10 chance of surviving the trip. Given that, the trip can be done for far less and far quicker privately. Don’t underestimate the human spirit or the commonly held desire to be the first at anything.

      • lcrowell says:

        Without those safety requirements and regs it means your chances of becoming dead meat in space are increased considerably.

        In 1492 the interest was in extending trade routes to regions that had people. That does not exist in space; there is nobody out there. The comparison is simply flawed.


        • Dan Johnson says:

          I will repeat, the chance of dying is not a concern to people who aspire to be first. So that is simply irrelevant for not being able to get there. Getting to Mars to very doable for a well funded individual or organization; much more so than for NASA or other government entity who need to explain their actions to the people (the ones who pay for it).

          The comparison with Columbus or any other voyage of its kind is that the risks were very high; reward was even higher though, And it did pay off; although different from a manner than anyone would have suspected.

          • lcrowell says:

            It might not be a concern to those going up, I suppose given all the gung-ho stuff. Given that the training of astronauts is a multi-10 million dollar investment and the cost of the mission in general it is a concern to those promoting it.


    • lcrowell says:

      Agreed. The infrastructure for this simply does not exist.


      • Dan Johnson says:

        That is simply not the case. It does nearly exist for the private sector. Launch three Falcon Heavy rockets. Two have dragon capsules attached and one has Bigelow habitat. Connect one dragon capsule to Bigelow habitat in orbit and land the other Dragon capsule on Mars with supplies (SpaceX is already trying to get NASA to let them do this — Red Dragon). Fly to Mars. Detach Dragon capsule from Bigelow modules upon reaching Mars. Land on Mars in Dragon capsule (Red Dragon example). Use supplies from the other Dragon capsule that is already there. Refuel Dragon capsule (this is what has not been done before). Rendezvous with Bigelow module that is still in Mars orbit. Fly home. Land in ocean with Dragon capsule.

        Costs (taken from websites)

        Three Falcon Heavy: $150 million each ($450 million)

        Two Dragon’s: $125 million ($250 million)

        Bigelow module: Unknown, but probably not more than $500 million

        Develop insitu refueling tech: $1 billion

        Other testing: $1 billion (guess)

        Mission Support: $1 billion

        Total cost: $4 billion (even if you double that, it is still within reach of many billionaires).

        Chance of success. I bet at least 25% survivability. Remember, this ain’t for NASA, it is for a private organization and they can take all the risk they want.

        • lcrowell says:

          This is going to Mars on a wing and prayer. Consider that the Bigelow module is basically a balloon. If a CME throws charged particles at it in interplanetary space the crew inside will die — no questions asked. This is a good way to die I suppose, and over a 500 day mission there are good chances of getting caught by a CME.

          This idea will fade away, just as have other exuberant Mars ideas brought to UT have faded away. The investment is still fairly considerable and there are probably not that many interested in fronting a sizable amount of money for a space mission with dodgy prospects of success.


  6. The Latinist says:

    Having read the press release carefully, I can see no mention of the 2018 mission being crewed. Sure, they say that they’re dedicated to human exploration of space, but that doesn’t mean that *this* mission, only five years out, is planned to have humans aboard.

  7. Jose Manuel Clemente Gomis says:

    i want to go out there too! please! take me into account! i’m an engineer!

  8. DonH says:

    This is a pie in the sky pipe dream. Nobody has even managed to make it back to the moon yet and they think people will be going to Mars in five years? Five years to make and test all of the necessary hardware? Pure fantasy.

  9. bdlaacmm says:

    It is way, WAY too early to be thinking about crewed missions to Mars, or to anywhere else in the Solar System. We are nowhere near to solving the problem of long-term exposure to radiation outside of the Earth’s protective magnetic field. The Apollo astronauts were exposed to these hazards for too short a time to be really significant, but a months-long trip to Mars could well prove to be lethal without proper shielding.

    And we still haven’t got a clue as to how to (economically) do this.

    • Dan Johnson says:

      They were planning it in the 1960’s. Political environment has kept us from going, not technology. Most plans still have chemical propulsion as the means for getting there which will work, but will not support a broad and continuing human Mars program. Nuclear is again hampered by political issues. VASIMR hasn’t solved the issue of where it is going to get its power source from.

      • Usarian Skiff says:

        the flight-ready-right-now 200MW VASIMR engine is solar powered. A vessel that small could surely benefit from the boost the plasma rocket could give it. If the 200 MW version cam push the ISS into a higher orbit, then pushing a Dragon (.. or two conjoined?) would be easy peasy

  10. [email protected] says:

    I I volunteer, I volunteer, I volunteer. I will quit my job tomorrow. email me at

  11. lcrowell says:

    I have indicated some of this in the past, but I figure it is worth repeating.

    Interplanetary space travel is not going to really work well without more robust power and propulsion systems. We are not going to make human spaceflight to the planets work well with chemical propulsion systems, except as a bare minimum shoestring approach with considerable risk. This will requires nuclear power systems and I think from that it is used to drive a VASIMR plasma propulsion system. This might be thought of as analgous to the gas-hybrid or diesel-electric systems used in ground transportation. In that way a spacecraft can reach planets on high velocity nonHohmann transfer orbits, and the time of journey cut from years to weeks.

    These private space initiatives need to target some economic purpose here on Earth. The only plausible next step I can see are with solar power satellites. This might then increase the need for a human presence in the geosynchronous orbital region for deployment and maintenance. This is a step further in the current commercial use of space, where the commodity is massless — information, communications etc. From there maybe this can bootstrap further to the moon or asteroids later on. However, there is no real positive economic feedback in sending astronauts to Mars at this time.

    In addition, if Mars does turn out to be biologically active on some small level it behooves us not to inadvertently drag Martian bugs back to Earth. Once actual boots hit the Martian surface the level of contact is complex and almost impossible to contain. We also risk contaminating Mars as well with Earth microbes. This would make the search for possible Martian biology difficult. Humans on Mars runs the risk of an interplanetary invasive species issue we have played out in hundreds of ways here on Earth.


    • GregtheThird says:

      Von Braun agreed with this conclusion about nuclear powered flight to Mars in 1969.

      • lcrowell says:

        The down votes on my posts, and on others who raise questions about this, are pretty heavy. This seems to reflect the interests of most people here, which is somewhat along the lines of “Buck Rogers” and so forth.

        Yet we can’t expect to cobble together some modules and work with rocket boosters to make this work. Just think of the amount of food that is required along the way. Life support requires massive amounts of chemical processing, such as CO_2 absorbing compounds. Without a nuclear powered reprocessing system the amount of chemical required would be in the many tons.

        I suspect this will fade away in time. I doubt there are the resources and money necessary to put this together in a five year time frame.


    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      I think all your points are arguable.

      – The recent radiation assesments makes Mars trips feasible.

      – To open up Mars for the colonization market as Musk intends, you would have to invest. Return comes later.

      This is no different from other investments in new technology.

      – Other planets or potential biospheres currently “behooves” us nothing outside of planetary protection protocols, which has to be voided for colonization anyway.* And this trip will not, bar accidents, affect Mars.

      Yes, it may make astrobiology problematic if Earth biosphere gets a foothold on Mars, unlikely as it may seem. But it can be sorted out eventually.

      That a presumed Mars biosphere can get a foothold on Earth is even less likely, since that has to have a deep crust ecology. Those niches are already taken here, and it would be a major feat for such organisms to get there while competing with surface niches.

      As for invasive species, they are “pre-adapted” generalists. Not crustal specialists.

      * If there is going to be a legislative ethics comparison, I think Musk’s “second Earth biosphere” will win over “native biosphere” because it has greater social benefits.

  12. Aqua4U says:

    Forget sending humans to Mars any time soon (Unless Curiosity finds a fossil!). Lets focus instead on going back to the Moon! We’ll need all the ‘practice’ we can get!

  13. Chetan Chauhan says:

    It took SpaceX < 5 years to make and prove the Falcon 9 and the Dragon space capsule. Once you get past the gravity well of Earth , going somewhere is a matter of time.

    What they really need in this mission is some serious life support system enhancements. The mission is doable in 5 years provided they have the funds.

    What i fail to understand is what to they plan to achieve with this mission ? Other than proving that we can make life support that can last 500+ days , all they're going to get is a few high res photo's of Mars from 1000+ km above the ground.

    • DonH says:

      Doing nothing more than flying by Mars moves it from the realm of pure fantasy to the realm of pointless pure fantasy. There isn’t anything that we could get from a flyby that we haven’t gotten before or couldn’t get now by sending a robot. SpaceX made it to low earth orbit where spacecraft have been going for many decades. Not exactly breaking ground there. The hardware doesn’t exist for getting people out to Mars and back and there is no good reason to believe that it will be conceived, tested, refined and ready to go in five years.

  14. Olaf2 says:

    If I were filthy rich, then I would use the money just for the heck of it.

    Not because it is profitable, but because I just could do it.

    I want to tell my kids that I just designed a Mars rocket! How cool is that for a dad?

    On the side notice. People are always whining that it costs money. But that money creates jobs and in returns gives us a whole new sets of technology that can befit to humanity even the poor. Without space exploration there would not be TV and weather satellites!

  15. GregtheThird says:

    I agree that it is wise not to take sides with the left or right as in the current era it results in an immediate and innane partisan propaganda. It is best to support whatever side in each cycle is backing research, science and exploration.

  16. Rhino666 says:

    No one wants to pay for it or take the risk. Maybe he should cough up if he wants it that badly.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      That remains to be seen. With a population of / billions, some will surely take the risk, the observed outliers of human behavior assures us that.

      The capital is there, but the population of individuals who would take that risk is lower.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    An interesting initiative.

    Tito is correct, the requisite technology could be available (Falcon Heavy and a long period crewed Dragon), and the incentive as well (SpaceX wants to market Mars, so would provide partial financing).

    I was earlier worried about radiation, but apparently the levels are just permissible. By the time this will be launched, both the RAD instrument measurements and the ISS year long missions will tell us more.

    As an indication, CMEs during Curiosity’s travel gave 10 – 100 times as much proton flux inside a craft [ ], which is comparable to LEO events. (One long MIR CME added ~ 100 days worth of “normal” exposure. [ ]) Which is why I expect Tito’s expert Clark can sighn off on the feasibility of a crewed mission.

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