March 1, 2013
Millionaires Want To Send A Married Couple To Mars In The Name Of ‘Merica
Given the massive distance and terrible difficulty involved, it’s only fair not to compare Dennis Tito’s trip to Mars to Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days.” For starters, Tito plans to shoot someone into space and around Mars, a journey upon which no human has embarked. Second, this trip will take substantially more than 80 days. Yet, given the distance to be traveled, 501 days round trip, no one can accuse Tito and crew of dawdling.
Millionaire Dennis Tito is no stranger to space travel. In 2001 he became the first “Space Tourist,” AKA someone with a spare $20 million to tag along with some astronauts on a visit to the International Space Station. Now, the 70-something year old has founded a non-profit called the Inspiration Mars Foundation, which aims to send a pair of human beings to outer space for a brief little flyby of Mars. Tito has joined with Taber MacCallum, CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp, to launch the “Mission for America,” a name which sounds more like an election campaign than a lovely jaunt up to the Red Planet. The mission is set to launch in just 5 years, shooting a rocket at Mars when it comes to the closet point to Earth in its orbit. Assuming the mission blasts-off on the projected January 5, 2018, the space travelers should return on May 21, 2019.
“This “Mission for America” will generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration,” explained Tito in a statement.
“It will encourage and embolden all Americans to believe, again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue their destiny through STEM education.”
The Mission for America isn’t concerned with actually landing its two astronauts, a man and a woman, on the surface of Mars. NASA has plans to do this already at some point this century. Instead, MacCallum and Tito are planning a “simple” flyby of Mars, a goal which the pair believes is both attainable and beautiful.
There’s plenty to be learned in simply embarking on this journey, in finding two people, planning their trip, and living to tell about it…hopefully.
“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,” said MacCallum. Yet, there’s always the real possibility that whoever is chosen to fly into space might not make it back home. The Inspiration Mars Foundation has also said they’ll be looking for a married couple (makes sense) who are out of child bearing years. According to MacCallum, even though radiation will be at an 11-year low at the point of takeoff, there’s still the risk of exposure that could, presumably, be the beginning to a very real X-Men franchise.
Nonetheless, and despite all the danger, MacCallum and Tito believe this mission will be worth it all in the end.
“If we wanted a guarantee, we wouldn’t be doing this,” said Tito.
Then there’s the issue of who is to pay for this mission. As it stands, there are public and private interests in space travel, with private entities like Elon Musk’s Space X working together with NASA. The group won’t be asking NASA for any money, but have mentioned selling media rights and looking to sponsorship to fund their far-off journey. MacCallum and Tito did not mention any plans to adopt the NASCAR model of sponsorship.
The mission is being called a “philanthropic effort” for America, (not the world, mind you, just America) yet it should only cost about $1 billion, a bargain for a trip to outer space. The group has said this mission will be primarily funded through private and charitable donations. They’ll also be looking to NASA for some technological help as well.
As they’re looking to use existing knowledge and technologies to equip a short and sweet trip to Mars and back, MacCallum suggested the mission could use an existing rocket rather than build something brand new.
Currently, the team is most concerned with entering and exiting the Earth’s atmosphere. There’s a new high-speed heat shield in the works, but it hasn’t been tested and won’t be until next year at the earliest.
Once the couple is launched past Earth’s orbit, they’ll move into an “inflatable habitat module” which they’ll live in for the duration of the trip. Then, just before entering the Earth’s atmosphere again, this module will be discarded as the two dart back to terra firma in a separate module.
Once this couple comes back down to Earth, they’ll begin inviting over their other empty-nester friends to brag about their recent trip and show off terribly composed pictures, in accordance to the American social convention. “The mission will help create public awareness, enthusiasm and momentum for a long-term commitment and vision for space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit … all the way to Mars,” concludes Tito in the statement.
“Clearly, there are risks associated with the mission, as is true of every space exploration mission. But these are exactly the kinds of risks that America should be willing to take in order
to advance our knowledge, experience and position as a world leader. We believe the risks and challenges we have identified are well within the scope of our collective experience and can be overcome to achieve a safe and successful mission.”
The decision to launch this mission in less than five years isn’t only a sign of eagerness to venture to far off places. According to Tito, 2018 is the next best time to launch the mission, given the proximity of Mars to Earth and the low radiation levels. Were we (as Americans) to rest on our haunches, an opportunity such as this would not come around again until 2031.
So then, let the countdown begin to January 5, 2018 and the blast off of the first humans to travel to Mars.