Dennis Tito and Team Outline Audacious Plan for Mars Trip
by alvin remmers
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Inspiration Mars conducted its maiden press conference at the National Press Club here today, setting in motion a bold plan to launch two people to Mars and back four years and ten months from now. Founder Dennis Tito’s organization is eyeing a 2018 launch for a dramatic flyby of the planet Mars.
Inspiration Mars (IM) has decided on a two-person crew, comprised of one man and one woman. The crew would not land on Mars, rather they would swing by within 100 miles of the Red Planet and head back to Earth. IM is now reviewing mission architectures, including several that might launch the entire package to low earth orbit and beyond in one shot.
Tito stated that IM has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA “in record time”. NASA has given the plan a ringing endorsement:
NASA Spokesperson David Steitz said, “This type of private sector effort is further evidence of the timeliness and wisdom of the Obama Administration’s overall space policy and the enthusiasm to tap the innovative spirit of the private sector and share the interest people have in Mars exploration. It’s a testament to the audacity of America’s commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America’s citizen-explorers. NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA’s human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans.”
The year 2018 was chosen because it’s an ideal window for a relatively fast orbit between Mars and Earth. The next opportunity for a short trip will not come for another 15 years, in 2033`
The entire round trip will take an estimated 501 days. IM says this relatively short trip is necessary because concerns are not limited to issues like supplies or on board system redundancies. Long periods in microgravity causes changes in human physiology. Loss of bone mass and bone density have been reported in astronauts and cosmonauts over the years in space stations including most recently the ISS. IM will study these and other critical issues before making a determination for final feasibility.
Speaking as master of ceremonies, PBS Science Journalist Miles O’Brien introduced key members of the team and noted the launch window being analyzed is January 2018, “which happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission and the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the earth.”
Key team members in addition to Tito are:
• Taber McCallum, Chief Technology Officer of IM and CEO and CTO of Paragon Space Development Corporation
• Dr. Jonathan Clark, Chief Medical Officer of IM Foundation, Associate Professor of Neurology and Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Space Medicine Advisor for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute
• Jayne Poynter, President and Chairwoman of Paragon Space Development Corporation
Dennis Tito then took the podium and put to rest rumors he was a candidate for one of the two crew members. Tito became the world’s first privately funded astronaut when he ventured to the ISS in 2001 aboard a Soyuz space craft.
Tito explained his interest in the fly-by with simplicity and candor, “In my view having started in the robotic side at JPL, we continue to make progress, outstanding progress, on the unmanned side, from Voyager to Hubble. But we have not made the same kind of progress on the human side; we have not sent anyone to the moon in over 40 years. I think it’s time to put an end to that lapse.”
It was this initial motivation, Tito said, that drove him to create the team and ultimately a nonprofit organization to study the feasibility of a Mars free return mission. Wrapping up he noted wryly, “This is not a for-profit mission, if it goes as planned I’ll come out a lot poorer, but my grandchildren will be much richer”.
The cost, Tito explained, will be much lower than one would expect, similar to a mission to low earth orbit. Savings would come from the simplicity of the mission architecture – no EVA, no propulsion on vehicle, no landing, just an up and down. Tito will fund the first two years of operations out of his own pocket with the remainder coming from sponsorships, media deals, and data-sharing sales. Tito says he expects to spend a lot of time raising money for the venture and is excited by the opportunity. “The Inspiration Mars mission presents a challenging, attainable goal to advance human experience and knowledge. Now is the time,” says Tito.
Taber McCallum said the team has a baseline configuration for life support and Paragon is under contract to develop it. He said the astronauts will be “drinking the same water over and over again and breathing the same air over and over again”.
He said they are looking at both inflatable and rigid stages for the spacecraft, with its size about 35 cubic meters, half filled with supplies leaving about 600 cubic feet for living space. It will only weigh 10 tons, half life support system, half structure. In addition to its two passengers it will carry 3,000 pounds (1360 kg) of dehydrated food – rehydrated with recycled water.
Dr. Jonathan Clark said there “will be a solicitation for candidates for crew at some point” and “Getting the crew in the best physical and mental shape ahead of time will be key.” Jayne Poynter said they will be looking for “pretty even-keeled” people. Taber chimed in that the candidates must have “amazing mechanical skill”, and Tito said they must possess “the Right Stuff times 10” and “the crew will be American”.
On the danger of the mission, Clark said, “Anything worth doing is worth putting it all at stake for.” and “If we wanted a guarantee, we wouldn’t be doing this.” McCallum said, “That’s the kind of risk America used to take. This mission re-calibrates what risks are worth taking for America. It’s my assessment that American industry is up to the task. The widow of Challenger shuttle commander Dick Scobee and Challenger Center founder June Scobee Rogers added, “I was asked that question many times. Without risk, we don’t accomplish anything. After the Challenger accident our inspiraiton led us to build Challenger Centers. The inspiration lives.”
Tags: Ames Research Center, Atlas V, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Human spaceflight, interplanetary spaceflight, Jonathan Clark, june scobee rodgers, June Scobee Rogers, Mars, Miles O'Brien, NASA, NASA-Ames, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Space, space news, SpaceX