WASHINGTON (AP) — In less than five years, a married couple could be on their way toward Mars in an audacious but bare-bones private mission that would slingshot them around the red planet, under a plan announced Wednesday by a financial tycoon and his team.
The voyage to Mars and back would be a cosmic no-frills flight that would take the husband-and-wife astronauts as close as 100 miles to the planet, but it would also mean being cooped up for 16 months in a cramped space capsule half the size of an RV.
The private, nonprofit project, called Inspiration Mars, will get initial money from multimillionaire investment consultant Dennis Tito, the first space tourist. The team would not say how much the overall flight would cost, but outsiders put it at more than $1 billion.
NASA will not be involved. Instead, the project’s backers intend to use a private rocket and space capsule and some kind of habitat that might be inflatable, employing an austere design that could take people to Mars for a fraction of what it would cost NASA to do with robots, officials said.
The crew members will have no lander to go down to the planet, and no spacesuits to go out for any spacewalk. They will have minimal food and clothing, and their urine will be recycled into drinking water.
“This is not going to be an easy mission,” chief technical officer and potential crew member Taber MacCallum said in an interview. “We called it the Lewis and Clark trip to Mars.”
It also involves a huge risk, more than a government agency like NASA would normally permit, officials concede.
“It’s a risk well worth taking,” MacCallum said. He said it harkens back to the days when people took risks when it was meaningful, and he said it could be an inspiration, especially to students.
As for why a couple will make the flight, “this is very symbolic and we really need it to represent humanity with a man and a woman,” MacCallum said.
He said if it is a man and a woman on such a long, close-quarters voyage, it makes sense for them to be married so that they can give each other the emotional support that will probably need when they look out the window and see Earth get smaller and more distant: “If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.”
The project aims to capitalize on the once-in-a-generation close approach of the two planets’ orbits. The timeline for the 501-day mission is set out in a technical paper to be presented next month at a scientific meeting. It calls for a launch on Jan. 5, 2018, a Mars flyby on Aug. 20, 2018, and a return to Earth on May 21, 2019.
In a statement, NASA spokesman David Steitz said the venture validates President Barack Obama’s decision to rely more on private sector ingenuity to explore space, and is “a testament to the audacity of America’s commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America’s citizen-explorers.”
He said “NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually beneficial activities.”
Stanford University professor Scott Hubbard, NASA’s former Mars mission chief, said that the team’s technical paper is “long on inspiration, short on technical details. What is there is correct.”
“It’s sort of an audacious thing to say, ‘I’m going to fly by Mars in five years,’” said MacCallum, who was part of a team that lived for two years in Biosphere 2, a sort of giant terrarium on Earth that was supposed to replicate a mission on another planet.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11