Plans to send a middle-aged couple on a flyby mission to Mars in 2018 have been unveiled by space tourist and multi-millionaire Dennis Tito
WASHINGTON -- The world's first space tourist, millionaire Dennis Tito, has unveiled plans to send a man and woman - preferably a couple - on a 501-day mission to Mars and back.
The mission, expected to cost more than $1 billion, is to be led by the Inspiration Mars Foundation, which still needs to be funded. Funding is envisaged to come from donations and sponsorships.
The project has an incentive to get the selected couple off the ground in January 2018. If that launch window can't be met, the next opportunity for a manned fly-by mission to the Red Planet won't be until 2031.
"If we don't make 2018, we're going to have some competition in 2031," Dennis Tito told the Reuters news agency.
"By that time, there will be many others that will be reaching for this low-hanging fruit, and it really is low-hanging fruit," said Tito.
During the flight to and from Mars, the couple is envisaged to spend much of their time maintaining their habitat and keeping in touch with people on Earth via radio communications, as their craft will have no propulsion system.
"You're really flying this mission without a propulsion system on the spacecraft. It's in the most simple form," Tito explained.
There is expected to be little control once the mission is launched: "If something goes wrong, they're not coming back," said project chief technical officer Taber MacCallum.
The fly-by mission is expected to reach Mars 228 after launch, loop around the Red Planet and slingshot back to Earth, where the capsule performs a re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere at an unprecedented 32,000 mph a further 273 days later.