Are We Sending Someone To Mars In 2018?

By Sean Kane email: , Feb 21, 2013 06:10 PM EST

We may be sending astronauts to Mars in 2018.

Millionaire Dennis Tito, who in 2001 became the first space tourist, has announced a plan to send two astronauts to Mars.

The mission would send two astronauts to Mars and back in a non-stop trip. The 501-day flight would not land on the surface of the planet, but rather do a brief fly-by. The conditions that could allow the mission will be present in 2018, and not again until 2031.

SpaceRef passed along a media advisory inviting journalists to a press conference and Q&A session about the mission on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Giving the presentation will be Tito (chairman of the Inspiration Mars Foundation), Dr. Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon, and two crew members from the two-year Biosphere 2 mission, Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter. In the Biosphere 2 mission, Poynter and MacCallum spent two years living in a sealed environment, so it’s a fair guess they might have some advice for prospective Mars-bound astronauts on Tito’s flight.

Tito paid a reported $20 million to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station in 2001. The visit sparked controversy, and caused the station to change its policies regarding operation. Since Tito, six others have paid huge sums to visit the space station in low Earth orbit.

“This ‘Mission for America’ will generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration,” the advisory said. “It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, while inspiring youth through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and motivation.”

Jeff Foust, publisher of NewSpace Journal, posted information from a paper Tito plans to submit at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March. The paper discusses how Tito plans to send two people to Mars. The mission would use a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule and Falcon Heavy rocket, which has yet to fly. As NBC’s Cosmic Log points out, it’s unclear if the Dragon capsule could withstand the radiation of a long-duration, deep-space trip, or what the health effects of 501 days in zero-G microgravity might be.

This would not be a pleasure cruise to Mars though. As Tito’s paper states, “crew comfort is limited to survival needs only. For example, sponge baths are acceptable, with no need for showers.”

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