Millionaire plans to send couple to Mars in 2018. Is that realistic? (+video)
The Inspiration Mars Foundation, led by space tourist and multimillionaire Dennis Tito, announces its plan to send a married couple on a flyby mission to the Red Planet beginning in 2018.
(Page 2 of 2)
Simplicity is vital to keep the craft's mass to levels a large rocket can readily loft from Earth, explained Mr. MacCallum of Paragon Space Development Corporation, which specializes in environmental controls and life-support systems for spacecraft.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The craft will have no propulsion system of its own but will rely on the push it gets from the final stage of its rocket and gravitational assists to get to Mars and back. Like a submarine, the craft is being designed so that all systems can be serviced from inside, eliminating the need for systems to support spacewalks and bulky space suits.
The mission envisions using a rocket with capabilities similar to those of the Falcon Heavy rocket, developed by the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. Scheduled for its first demonstration flight later this year, the Falcon Heavy would be the most powerful rocket since NASA's Saturn V, which launched astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program.
Fully loaded, the Inspiration Mars capsule would tip the scales at about 10 tons, so it could be lofted by either the Delta IV or Atlas V, well-established workhorses for launching large satellites and robotic exploration missions. The capsule would host about 600 cubic feet of living space and 600 cubic feet of cargo space. The capsule could include an inflatable module to expand living space, foundation representatives said, although that would add complexity to the craft.
"There really are multiple options for basically every function we need" to pull off the mission, said MacCallum.
Already the foundation has signed a Space Act agreement with the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., to tap its expertise on heat shields and reentry approaches.
Still, the challenges are enormous. The schedule is tight, and the funding after the first two years – the least-expensive years, Tito acknowledges – is uncertain. And the risk to the mission's crew, likely a middle-aged married couple, is considerable.
From a physical standpoint, the biggest risk the crew is likely to face comes from the radiation hazards of interplanetary space – from galactic cosmic rays and from intense bursts of particles from the sun during powerful solar storms. The radiation exposure the crew would experience during the Mars mission exceeds the amount of exposure that NASA allows its astronauts to undergo, said Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon and an associate professor at Baylor's Center for Space Medicine.
And while this mission's radiation-hazard standard is not as stringent as NASA's, Dr. Clark said, "don't believe that we are looking at this lightly; this is a super concern."
Of particular concern are any acute effects from radiation that might impair a crew member during the mission.
In addition, the team is focusing on ways to offset, through preflight training as well as in-flight activities, the effects of prolonged weightlessness and on the psychological effects of long periods spent in confined spaces.
"The real issue here is understanding the risk in an informed capacity – the crew would understand that, the team supporting them would understand that," Clark said.
The mission won't come cheap, although Tito said it's too early to put an overall price tag to the project. His best guess would be less than what the US spends to send robotic missions to Mars.
"This is really chump change compared to what we've heard before" on estimates for landing a crew on Mars, he said.
RECOMMENDED: Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz