Multimillionaire Dennis Tito, the world's first "space tourist," announced on Wednesday that he is going to bankroll a private, nonprofit project, called Inspiration Mars. Outlined by Tito and his team, the project would rocket a husband-and-wife team on trip to Mars and back.
Tito is called the world's first "space tourist" because in mid-2001 he spent nearly eight days in orbit as a crew member of ISS EP-1, a visiting mission to the International Space Station. The mission was launched by the spacecraft Soyuz TM-32, and was landed by Soyuz TM-31.
Inspiration Mars would have no Mars landing. The trip would be a no-frills mission that would take the husband-and-wife astronauts as close as 100 miles to Mars. The reason for the husband-and-wife proposal is not because the planning team want to experiment in weightless sex -- although that would, of course, be possible -- but because a married couple can give each other emotional support on the 16-month-long trip.
Cramped quarters would also necessitate familiarity with each other. The space capsule is expected to be about half the size of an RV.
Taber MacCallum, who is a member of the development team, and his Jane Poynter, are in the running for the mission. The couple has history on their side. They were both crew members of Biosphere 2, the controversial two-year-long (1991 - 1993) experiment in long-term containment in a closed ecological environment.
MacCallum is 49; Poynter is 50. Following Biosphere two, the couple went on to become the co-founders of Paragon Space Development Corp., a company which specializes in spacecraft life-support systems.
Inspiration Mars will attempt to leverage a particularly close approach of Mars to Earth. The mission timeline is detailed in a technical paper which will be presented next month at a scientific meeting. The schedule calls for a launch on Jan. 5, 2018, a Mars flyby on Aug. 20, 2018, and a return to Earth on May 21, 2019.
Tito and his team are not just looking for a married couple; they are looking for a couple past their child-bearing years. The reason for this is not so the couple can participate in space sexual acrobatics sans birth control (get your mind out of the gutter) but because, even with shielding in place, the round trip to Mars will likely involve radiation exposure levels beyond NASA's limits. In addition, the astronauts will need to be prepared for an increased risk of cancer.
There will be more health concerns, as well. With long-term weightlessness, there can be bone loss and muscle loss. The Inspiration Mars astronauts will surpass Soviet cosmonaut Valery Polyakov's 437-day record for continuous time in microgravity, set in 1994-1995 aboard the Mir space station.
Although the current schedule aims for a 2018 window of opportunity, there is another one in 2016. After that and 2018, the next chance won't come around until 2031.