In February 2013, US multimillionaire Dennis Tito announced that his non-profit organization, Inspiration Mars Foundation, was planning to sponsor two 'qualified' people for a flyby to Mars in 2018. While one would think that an announcement this ambitious from a man whose closest encounter with Space has been as the first paying guest of the International Space Station would arouse some skepticism, such is not the case.
Earlier last week, the foundation announced that they had already begun to receive hundreds of applications from people interested in what sounds like a treacherous 501 day round-trip journey, cooped inside a capsule the size of an RV on the way in, and an even smaller rocket, on the return.
Besides the issue of the tight living quarters, the pioneers will also have to breath oxygen that is created on board from water and carbon dioxide exhaled from their own breaths, eat dehydrated food and drink water purified from their urine. If that is not bad enough, in case one of them happens to die, the other crew member will have to put him/her in a vacuum sealed bag and complete the rest of the journey, solo.
The clincher is that after suffering through such discomfort, the astronauts will not even get to walk on the Red Planet - That's because the mission is just a flyby, which means that it will get to within 100 miles of the planet and then zip straight down - As Zito describes it, like a boomerang.
While zooming down at speeds of over 8.8 miles per second may sound like the ultimate roller-coaster ride, it could be dangerous given that no space vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere at such a rapid pace, prior to this.
As to who would 'qualify' for the mission? Preferably, a middle aged man and woman, largely because their lifetime risk of dying from the high dosage of radiation they will be exposed to, is considered to be relatively low. Given the duration of the journey, they would ideally also have to be married. And, though neither have to be scientists or astronauts, they do have to be able to make minor repairs, change filters and perform a number of different tasks that space experts normally undertake.
So why is Tito who is funding the first two years of development from his own funds doing it? Not for the fame or to make money, but because he wants to prove that humans can explore deep space and he is hoping that his venture will convince and inspire the US government to commit the funds necessary, to do one that will involve more than a mere flyby.
In order to maximize the chances of the mission being successful, the spacecraft will have to be ready for blast off, by January, 2018. That's because it is the year when Earth and Mars will be perfectly positioned and also coincides with the 11-year solar minimum, which will mean that the space pioneers will be exposed to the least amount of solar radiation possible. If they miss the deadline, the next window will not open up until 2031! Will he succeed? We for one cannot wait to see! To read more about the incredible journey or keep tabs on the latest news, check out : inspirationmars.org.
Resources: news.yahoo.com, npr.org, news.nationalgeographic.com