A new nonprofit led by the world's first space tourist, Dennis Tito, is mounting an ambitious plan to launch the first manned mission to Mars in the next five years, a voyage that will include a married couple.
Tito's organization, Inspiration Mars, announced the plans on Wednesday to select a middle-aged married couple in their 40s or 50s to take part in the 16-month mission aboard a cramped 14 ft x 12 ft Dragon spacecraft in January 2018.
“We have not sent humans beyond the moon in more than 40 years,” Tito said at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday. “I’ve been waiting, and a lot of people my age, have been waiting. And I think it’s time to put an end to that lapse."
Tito, a multimillionaire, who paid his own way to becoming the world's first space tourist in 2001, said he will give the private organization an initial payment for the project but his team would not say how much the overall flight would cost. Outsiders put it at more than $1 billion.
He reportedly paid $20 million to the Russian Federal Space Agency for a seat on a Soyuz space capsule bound for the International Space Station on April 28, 2001.
Tito hopes to fund this mission partly through television rights and by selling data to NASA.
The couple would get within 100 miles of Mars but would not perform a space walk.
They would have minimal food, water and clothing, and their urine would be recycled into drinking water.
In explaining their requirements for a middle-aged couple, the organization said they were worried about the stress of living in a confined space for such a long time for a younger couple.
Tito said a man and a woman on such a long, cramped voyage, it makes sense for them to be married so that they can give each other the emotional support that they will probably need when they look out the window and see Earth get smaller and more distant, adding: “If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.”
In a statement, NASA spokesman David Steitz said the venture validates President Barack Obama's decision to rely more on private sector ingenuity to explore space, and is "a testament to the audacity of America's commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America's citizen-explorers."
The mission timeline calls for a launch on January 5, 2018, a Mars fly-by on August 20, 2018, returning to Earth on May 21, 2019.