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Tito Wants to Send Married Couple on Mars Flyby Mission

An artist's concept of how the spacecraft for the Inspiration Mars Foundation's "Mission for America" might be configured. Credit: Inspiration Mars.

An artist’s concept of how the spacecraft for the Inspiration Mars Foundation’s “Mission for America” might be configured. Credit: Inspiration Mars.

Millionaire and space tourist Dennis Tito announced his plans for funding a commercial mission to Mars, and the mission will send two professional crew members – one man and one woman who will likely be a married couple – flying as private citizens on a “fast, free-return” mission, passing within 100 miles of Mars before swinging back and safely returning to Earth. The spacecraft will likely be tinier than a small Winnebago recreational vehicle. Target launch date is Jan. 5, 2018.

That date was picked because of the unique window of opportunity when the planets align for a 501-day mission to Mars and back.

“If we don’t seize the moment we might miss the chance to become a multi-planet species,” said journalist Miles O’Brien, who introduced the Inspiration Mars team at a webcast announcing the mission, “and if we don’t do that, one day humanity might cease to exist.”

Tito said there are lots of reasons to not to do a mission like this, “but sometimes you just have to lift anchor shove off. We need to stop being timid… Our goal is to send two people but take everyone along for the ride.”

Tito has started a new nonprofit organization, the Inspiration Mars Foundation, “to pursue the audacious to provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, while reaching out to American youth to expand their visions of their own futures in space exploration,” said a statement released by the Foundation.

Tito said this will be an American mission, not international.

The mission will be built around “proven, existing space transportation systems and technologies derived from industry, NASA and the International Space Station that can be available in time to support the launch date.”

Inspiration Mars has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA, specifically the Ames Research Center (Ames), to conduct thermal protection system and technology testing and evaluation, as well as tapping into NASA’s knowledge, experience and technologies.

“We went to NASA and said we don’t want money, but want to partner with you for certain technologies,” said said Taber MacCallum, chief technology officer for Inspiration Mars. MacCallum is also CEO/CTO of Paragon Space Development Corporation, and was a member of the Biosphere 2 Design, Development, Test & Operations team, and a crew member in the first two-year mission. “NASA had a tremendous can-do spirit about this, and we are thrilled to be working with them.”

Here’s look at the mechanics of the free return trajectory:

The profile of the mission means once it launches, there’s no way to abort.

Tito said the mission will engage “the best minds in industry, government and academia to develop and integrate the space flight systems and to design innovative research, education and outreach programs for the mission. This low-cost, collaborative, philanthropic approach to tackling this dynamic challenge will showcase U.S. innovation at its best and benefit all Americans in a variety of ways.”
Inspiration Mars will also offer educational programs to inspire children.

“It is important that it is a man and a woman going on this mission because they represent humanity,” said Jane Poynter, also with Paragon and Inspiration Mars, who is married to MacCallum, and together they were part of the Biosphere-2 project. “But more importantly, it represents our children, because whether they are a boy or a girl, they will see themselves in this mission. Inspiration is the name of this mission and its mission.”

She said it would “challenge our children to live audacious lives,” and Inspiration Mars is partnering with several organizations to create educational programs.

Poynter said it would be important for the two astronauts to be married, to provide a “backbone of support for the crew psychologically.

“Imagine, it’s a really long road trip and you’re jammed into an RV and you can’t get out,” Poynter said. “There’s no microgravity … all you have to eat for over 500 days are 3,000 lbs of dehydrated food that they rehydrate with the same water over and over that will be recycled,” adding that the two crew will need the proven ability to be with each other for the long term.

But that segue ways into how the mission will be funded. While Tito will fund the mission exclusively for the next two years, beyond that it will be funded primarily through private, charitable donations, as well as government partners that can provide expertise, access to infrastructure and other technical assistance.

But media rights will be a big part of funding, Tito said. “I envision Dr. Phil talking to the husband-wife crew about marital problems on way to Mars,” he said.

But this is not a money-making endeavor, Tito said. “I won’t make any money on this – I’ll be a lot poorer after this mission.”

Speaking of money, one thing the Inspiration Mars team didn’t do at the briefing today was talk about how much the mission was going to cost. They said that whatever number they might quote today would probably end up being wrong. But they did say it would be a fraction of what the Curiosity rover mission cost, which is $2.5 billion.

The mission system will consist of a modified capsule launched out of Earth orbit using a single propulsive maneuver to achieve the Mars trajectory. An inflatable habitat module will be deployed after launch and detached prior to re-entry. Closed-loop life support and operational components will be located inside the vehicle, designed for simplicity and “hands-on” maintenance and repair.

Tito said the time is right for this mission, not only because of the orbital window of opportunity. “Investments in human space exploration technologies and operations by NASA and the space industry are converging at the right time to make this mission achievable,” he said.

Foundation officials are in talks with several U.S. commercial aerospace companies about prospective launch and crew vehicles and systems.

Asked about how they can possibly get a launch vehicle ready by 2018, Tito said, “The vehicles are there and we have time to get it together. I’m more concerned about the life support, the radiation and the re-entry systems.”

“Mars presents a challenging, but attainable goal for advancing human space exploration and knowledge, and as a result, we are committed to undertaking this mission,” MacCallum said. “Experts have reviewed the risks, rewards and aggressive schedule, finding that existing technologies and systems only need to be properly integrated, tested and prepared for flight.”

Tito explained that the “beauty of this mission is its simplicity.” The flyby architecture lowers risk, with no critical propulsive maneuvers after leaving Earth vicinity, no entry into the Mars atmosphere, no rendezvous and docking, and represents the shortest duration roundtrip mission to Mars. The 2018 launch opportunity also coincides with the 11-year solar minimum providing the lowest solar radiation exposure.

Find out more about the mission at the Inspiration Mars website.
. Here is a link to a fact sheet about this mission.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dampe February 27, 2013, 7:25 PM

    “If we don’t seize the moment, we might miss the chance to become a multi-planet species…and if we don’t do that, one day humanity might cease to exist.”

    If we can’t survive as a species on Earth (the planet we evolved on!) I don’t have much hope for us being able o live on other bodies in the solar system. I doubt this will happen, and we’ll still be waiting for NASA for a long time, but this would be really cool.

    • Torbjörn Larsson February 27, 2013, 9:31 PM

      Those are different things. In resource constrained scenarios a temporary civilization can usher in a multi-planet occupancy while fail on one (or several) of the occupied planets. The problem is that the first capable civilization has much better resources (fuels, minerals, perhaps biosphere diversity, and time before the original HZ has moved outwards).

      This is why some futurists wants to hurry. Personally, I don’t think it is all that bad. We will achieve population maximum soon, so we will have several hundred more years before we can figure out how to make a low level sustainable population. (It turns out most people don’t want as many children that is necessary, it is too restrictive. Maybe humanity will settle on automatic creches.)

  • David Evans February 27, 2013, 7:28 PM

    This mission will not bring us one step closer to being a multi-planet species. What we need for that is, primarily, much lower launch costs. Tito should be putting his money towards fully re-usable launchers or, if he’s feeling really visionary, the space elevator.

    • Kevin Frushour February 27, 2013, 9:05 PM

      Yep, it’s the first 200 miles that’s tripping us up.

      • gdf55 March 1, 2013, 1:43 AM

        … the last 200 miles are also a bit of an issue!

    • Torbjörn Larsson February 27, 2013, 9:23 PM

      The obvious response is that a showcase is often helpful.

      But there is a risk, so a catastrophe will instead be a setback. Obviously Tito thinks its worth the gamble. (And I concur.)

    • Greg Burke February 27, 2013, 9:28 PM

      My concern with this mission is that if it succeeds, a future public / backers might say, “we’ve pretty much been there before” when a more extensive manned programme becomes feasible decades later. It should generate enthusiasm for a bigger programme in the short term, and would show the world that we can one day do it, but many years later when it could actually be done, it won’t seem so exciting than if humans had never even seen Mars up close. Nevertheless, I’d like to see it succeed!

    • GregtheThird February 28, 2013, 12:42 AM

      I like the idea as there is a potential to learn a great deal from this mission. Success would also inspire a generation of youngsters. If it fails future astronauts will remain undaunted. In my view the risk is incredibly high and the re-entry and propulsion will need to be fully automated in case the occupants have perished from any number of disasters along the way. I would not want to be flying for 500 plus days with recycling systems that do not have a long track record of robustness. Redundancy of the systems components will also be important as well as a well stocked repair kit.

    • Dan Johnson February 28, 2013, 2:21 AM

      I would disagree. There are already several other private space firms working on fully reusable launchers. I do agree that more funding should be spent on materials research that could lead to space elevator (as well as thousands of other products that could use nanotubes). This mission will shake out a lot of the components of a full Mars landing. Benefits of this flight include:
      –Experience with deep space flight of astronauts
      –Similar to mission to fly to asteroid really; a mission that NASA is considering
      –Test SpaceX Red Dragon capsule
      –Test Bigelow module (if they use that)
      –Reason to launch newly man-rated vehicle (Falcon rocket)
      –More experience with deep space radiation
      –More experience with long term weightlessness
      –Psychological evaluation of a male/female pair during long period of isolation in space
      –Shakeout/experience of delayed communication times with astronauts
      –Probably some minor science can be done at Mars because humans can immediately assess situation and possibly see stuff that robotic probe wouldn’t see just be turning their head
      –Testing of long term closed loop recycling
      –Testing of high speed re-entry system on Earth return
      — Bring public interest to spaceflight
      –Maybe bring some more billionaire philanthropists into the space business
      –Give Universe Today some interesting articles to write!

      I’m sure you can think of other benefits to add to this list. And I do agree, there are certainly some legitimate negatives that have been mentioned by other posters. If the mission fails, I don’t believe it would greatly impact future Mars missions. The U.S. has lost two space shuttles and had some other nasty mishaps (i.e., Apollo fire, Apollo 13, et al).

  • Howard Parks February 27, 2013, 7:38 PM

    501 days is less than a year and a half. Anybody who can’t go without sex for that long is not sufficiently self-controlled to be allowed off the planet. We’re talking human beings here, not monkeys. The idea of using a married couple has more to do with starting with a stable, close relationship before subjecting it to tremendous stress!

    I would tend to think that a two woman crew would be ideal, women being physically smaller and requiring less food and oxygen, but every bit as intellectually capable. Every ounce counts on a mission like this.

    • space_sailor February 27, 2013, 8:56 PM

      If we dream about sending normal people into the Space like we do with airplanes on Earth we have to test such human process as sex as well (and other aspects of normal life as well).

    • Torbjörn Larsson February 27, 2013, 9:20 PM

      As most societies goes, the choice of married female couples are way lower than heterosexual couples.

      But you have a point, so Tito can get the best of both worlds.

    • kkt February 27, 2013, 9:54 PM

      It’s possible to go without sex that long, sure, but the crew would be happier and more productive if they had a sex life along the way.

    • Andrew Planet February 27, 2013, 10:29 PM

      Small people including small fit men is a very efficient option too. Thanks, I think you are right there

    • Guest February 28, 2013, 4:55 PM

      Erm, but what about the risk of pregnancy? That would be dangerous if there were complications while they were months away from help. Surely a monogamous gay/lesbian couple would be a better solution.

  • Andrew Planet February 27, 2013, 10:28 PM

    I really prefer more cost effective robotic missions for Mars so they can create a base for a permanent colony sooner, but if they actually do send a couple its a great idea that they send a member of the complementary sex. They’d be able to be more intimate, therefore live in closer quarters comfortably and pass the time better, that being more representative of most people’s orientations, that is

  • Shawn Irwin February 27, 2013, 10:37 PM

    They may as well just go fly around an astroid and come back, what real difference would it make? Going to Mars with humans is just foolhardy at this point if you ask me. We have the moon which is much closer, and, would be a good base for launching all types of missions, and, probably also a good source for space materials (raw materials) . . . . . getting space materials off of Mars would be a whole different story compared to the moon. The block heads who are planning this mission are thinking short-term, not long term.

    • delphinus100 February 28, 2013, 2:29 AM

      It’s also a matter of ‘doing as much as you can afford.’

      This much seems doable with private funding. When you add; ‘Why don’t they at least spend time in orbit there?’ and ‘They’ve gone that far, why don’t they land?’ you start adding decimal places to the price tag, that pushes it out of the privately funded realm into the project of one or more governments…and politics will tend to insure yet another decimal place on the price of getting it done, and ‘it’s too expensive’ will become a self-fulfilling prophecy…

      One manned Mars flyby that actually happens, trumps any number of grander humans in space goals…that don’t.

  • The Latinist February 28, 2013, 12:11 AM

    I can’t see how the risk of radiation exposure from a 501 day space flight can be justified for a fly-by mission that won’t even put human feet in the ground. I’m all for crewed space exploration, and I’m not at all opposed to volunteers taking risks to accomplish science that could not be done by robots. Indeed, a couple of human beings with rock hammers and a microscope on the surface of Mars would be able to accomplish in day what Curiosity will take years to do. But this mission will tell us nothing about Mars that couldn’t be done as well or better by robots. And it won’t tell us anything about long-duration space flight that couldn’t be learned just as well in LEO. This project runs the real risk of bringing back two dead astronauts — a huge downside that could set back crewed space exploration by decades — with very little upside. I think it is a very bad idea.

    • Gusssss February 28, 2013, 2:22 PM

      I don’t think the science is a high priority for this. It seems more in the spirit of a ‘pioneering’ mission. I guess that if it was possible to devise and develop a proper full, manned scientific mission by 2018 then it would be done, however if this is the best that can be done then it might be worth doing anyway.

      You just never know what benefits might be taken from any mission. But I don’t know how they are going to solve the radiation problem either. I always assumed it would be a death sentence for humans.

  • Xiccarph February 28, 2013, 8:31 AM

    Going on a flyby just to “take advantage of a launch window” accomplishes what for colonizing Mars? Yes, we can “learn about” affects and issues of long space voyages, but why go all the way to Mars…we could “learn about” as much in earth orbit….uh, can anyone say “existing space station”? If he wants to go to Mars, I’m all for it…we have wasted enough time ignoring what we started in the 1960’s. We should have had a base on the moon and colonies on Mars decades ago. Nothing would boom economies and spawn new ideas and technology more than people getting into space and literally cashing in on its potential. Private, for profit, space exploration is the way to go….if only government does it, then only government will reap the benefits, control everything, and keep opportunity away from the people. The less government in space the better for space exploration. As for going to Mars, think ahead all you rich space enthusiasts. Skip the manned part for now…put the extra million$ needed to accommodate people and send a “colony prepper pack” to Mars. Everything you need to live, survive and expand on Mars. Heck, send 2 or 3 of these packs. Then, send some people up there to land on Mars, and build a viable colony there, they can even take another “prepper pack” with them on that trip. Once we are there, things get much easier. Leave the government out of it. Whomever gets to these places first, will be the only government that matters; late comers will have to follow local rules. The stars are ours, so why dilly-dally around showman style when something practical can actually be done?

  • BeefjerkyDOTcom February 28, 2013, 1:46 PM

    At least one company wants to become a sponsor: Beefjerky.com, maker of Final Frontier Jerky – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beefjerkycom/137696449615113

  • pollydextrous February 28, 2013, 4:57 PM

    Erm, but what about the risk of pregnancy inherent with heterosexual couples? That would be dangerous if
    there were complications while they were months away from help. Surely a
    monogamous gay/lesbian couple would be a better solution.

  • Syd Gearing March 1, 2013, 2:03 AM

    Start TerraForming that miserable frozen dust bowl now. Be practical. No one wants to live at 70 below zero with no air. Use TSA money for robots making greenhouse gas….or something. No liquid core = no strong magnetic field = no protection for an atmosphere = basket-case planet. A useful Mars will require big effort. Or, as a low-cost alternate, we could have NASA drop leaflets making Marvin the Martian feel good about his contribution to science.

  • Aqua4U March 1, 2013, 6:38 AM

    I suppose their names will be Adam and Eve? Uh-ohhh… here we go again!

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