The first humans to visit Mars could be a married couple, after organisers of an ambitious manned mission to the Red Planet said that only a “tried and tested” male-female partnership could cope with the close confinement of a return trip.
Dennis Tito, the multi-millionaire financier and former rocket scientist behind the planned 2018 mission, said he was confident of raising the estimated $1.5bn to $2bn (£1bn- £1.3bn) needed to send a two-person mixed crew to Mars – but admitted that the total funding has yet to be found.
Mr Tito, who once worked for Nasa, promised to fund the Inspiration Mars mission for the next two years, and will ask other wealthy individuals and charitable foundations to contribute to the final cost of building and launching the manned space craft.
“I will come out a lot poorer because of this mission, but my grandchildren will come out a lot richer in terms of inspiration,” Mr Tito said at a press conference in Washington DC.
In addition to charitable and personal donations, Mr Tito said that he expected to raise money from television and media rights. The choice of a mixed crew of one man and one woman would heighten media interest, he said.
The privately-funded mission has signed a “space act” agreement with Nasa. A wide range of industrial partners has already approached the group with the hope of collaborating.
Selecting the man and woman who will become the first people to journey beyond the Moon will be a lengthy and complicated process.
“The requirements are going to be so high. It’s going to be quite a crew-selection process,” Mr Tito said.
The Spartan nature of the crew’s journey is outlined in a scientific paper to be presented this weekend by Mr Tito to an aerospace conference in Montana. There will be no luxuries or privacy, with both crew members expected to share the same small space for eating, sleeping and toileting.
“The journey is treated as a high-risk mission, which drives towards reliable – but minimalist – accommodations and provisions… that would meet only basic human needs to support metabolic requirements and limited crew comfort allowances,” the feasibility study says.
Jane Poynter of Paragon Space Development, who is an adviser on the mission, said that the man and the woman would have to be in a stable relationship.
“The idea of a man and woman going on this mission is an important idea. It’s important also that they are a tried-and-trusted couple,” Dr Poynter said.
“It’s also important that they are man and a woman because they represent humanity…and just as important they represent our children,” she said.
Each crew member will be psychologically profiled so that they are able to endure the long return journey together, with no prospect of an emergency abort procedure if things go wrong.
The fact that the two crew members will share the same living space for 501 days suggests that the man and woman will have to know each other intimately before the mission.
The feasibility study points out that a man and a woman working and living together may be better than two people of the same sex.
A key aspect of the mission will be trust between the crew and mission control, which must be staffed by people who are sensitive to the psychological needs of the two astronauts.
The plan is for the two crew members to spend an extended period of time living and working together before the mission begins. “Experience has shown that it is extremely difficult to train, select and evaluate a crew team without those individuals having had experience living and working in an isolated confined environment for an extended period of time, preferable for the full mission duration, but for at least six months,” the study says.
“Working on this mission will also be a means to train the skilled workforce needed for the future manned Mars mission…. Sending humans on an expedition to Mars will be a defining event for humanity as well as an inspiration to our youth,” it says.
“Social media provides an opportunity for people to meaningfully participate in the mission, likely making this the most engaging human endeavour in modern history,” it concludes.