Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Businessman Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, announced Wednesday a plan to send a husband and wife team to a flyby mission to Mars in 2018.
The former NASA engineer, who paid $20 million to stay in orbit for eight days aboard the International Space Station in 2001, told reporters at the National Press Club that the project of his Inspiration Mars Foundation will launch the still unnamed married couple on Jan. 5, 2018, when the Earth and Mars’ are aligned to make the travel fuel-efficient. The alignment happens only every 15 years.
The 501-day, 140 million miles trip will take the spacecraft within 100 miles from Mars before the Red Planet’s gravity hurl it back to Earth.
Tito said he is involving Space Exploration Technologies and Boeing in the project for the construction of the spacecraft and rockets.
He also formed a team at NASA Ames Research Center in California to design a heat shield for the proposed spacecraft that will enable the astronauts to survive the fastest atmospheric reentry anticipated. The spacecraft will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere at 8.82 miles per second, according to Taber MacCallum, CEO for space development company Paragon and one of the scientists working on the Inspiration Mars program. At such speed, heat will vaporize the astronauts if they are unprotected.
Other dangers foreseen in the mission is prolonged exposure to radiation and the zero chance of coming back when the spacecraft malfunctions.
The astronauts will drink recycled water, breath recycled air and eat 3,000 pounds of dehydrated food for the duration of the trip.
Tito said the mission, estimated to cost at least $1 billion, aims to inspire Americans to do hard things to make the nation great.