World's first space tourist plans mission to the Red Planet when it makes its nearest approach to Earth in 2018 -
It has been a long-cherished dream of space enthusiasts, as well as lovers of science fiction, but now it seems that someone has finally come up with an ambitious – and some say realistic – plan to send two astronauts to Mars in just five years’ time.
Tomorrow at the National Press Club in Washington, multi-millionaire Dennis Tito – the world’s first space tourist – is expected to reveal how he hopes to launch a privately-funded mission to Mars in 2018, when the Red Planet makes its nearest approach to Earth.
Little is known about the “Inspiration Mars” mission accept that it is Tito’s brainchild and that he has garnered some high-profile supporters, including Jonathan Clark, the associate professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine who has flown on the Space Shuttle six times as the crew’s surgeon.
Dr Clark told The Independent that he is not supposed to talk about the mission until all is revealed at the Washington press conference this evening, but he dismissed suggestions that the plan is not a serious one.
“I wouldn’t be involved if I didn’t think that there was something to it. I don’t want to pre-empt the announcement, but it’s a very in-depth study that has gone into it,” Dr Clark said.
The Inspiration Mars mission will send two astronauts on a simple return trip to Mars, flying around the far side of the planet once but without going into orbit.
Scientifically, the 501-day mission will accomplish next to nothing. The probes, landers and robots that have already been sent to Mars have sent back far more interesting and useful information than this simple manned mission is ever going to be able to gather.
However, in terms of human endurance and psychology, the mission could set new precedents in space exploration. For 17 months, two people will experience what it is like to be cooped up together in a space module not much bigger than a small bathroom with the ever-present risk of something going fatally wrong.
Technically, it is known as a return fly-by, meaning that it will need the smallest amount of fuel to get there and back again. If anything goes wrong, the spacecraft should make its own way back to Earth – but with no possibility of any short-cuts home.
Anyone who knows anything about the immense problems of manned missions to Mars will want to hear about how Tito intends to raise the estimated $1.5bn-$2bn (£1bn-£1.3bn) that it will cost to send two people to Mars and back again.
Tito, a former Nasa scientist who made his fortune in financial investment, is believed to be in contact with other self-made billionaires with an interest in space flight, including Elon Musk, the Paypal entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, the private space company.
One possibility is that a privately-funded mission could raise money through TV rights and internet deals. The public could be invited to pay for exclusive access to on-board camcorders or the privilege of talking to the crew – some commentators have even suggested some kind of reality TV deal.
Anu Ojha, the director of the UK National Space Academy in Leicester, said that the global space community is agog at the thought that a group of extremely wealthy individuals could club together to fund a “quick and simple” manned mission to the Red Planet.
“I am more excited about this than any human spaceflight story I’ve seen or heard about being planned since I was a kid – but it all depends on the funding question,” Dr Ojha said.
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