The millionaire Dennis Tito and his mission to Mars

World's first space tourist plans privately-funded mission to the Red Planet when it makes its nearest approach to Earth in 2018

It has been a long-cherished dream of space enthusiasts, as well as lovers of science fiction, but now it seems that someone has finally come up with an ambitious – and some say realistic – plan to send two astronauts to Mars in just five years’ time.

Tomorrow at the National Press Club in Washington, multi-millionaire Dennis Tito – the world’s first space tourist – is expected to reveal how he hopes to launch a privately-funded mission to Mars in 2018, when the Red Planet makes its nearest approach to Earth.

Little is known about the “Inspiration Mars” mission accept that it is Tito’s brainchild and that he has garnered some high-profile supporters, including Jonathan Clark, the associate professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine who was the crew’s surgeon on six Space Shuttle flights.

Dr Clark told The Independent that he is not supposed to talk about the mission until all is revealed at the Washington press conference this evening, but he dismissed suggestions that the plan is not a serious one.

“I wouldn’t be involved if I didn’t think that there was something to it. I don’t want to pre-empt the announcement, but it’s a very in-depth study that has gone into it,” Dr Clark said.

The Inspiration Mars mission will send two astronauts on a simple return trip to Mars, flying around the far side of the planet once but without going into orbit.

Scientifically, the 501-day mission will accomplish next to nothing. The probes, landers and robots that have already been sent to Mars have sent back far more interesting and useful information than this simple manned mission is ever going to be able to gather.

However, in terms of human endurance and psychology, the mission could set new precedents in space exploration. For 17 months, two people will experience what it is like to be cooped up together in a space module not much bigger than a small bathroom with the ever-present risk of something going fatally wrong.

Technically, it is known as a return fly-by, meaning that it will need the smallest amount of fuel to get there and back again. If anything goes wrong, the spacecraft should make its own way back to Earth – but with no possibility of any short-cuts home.

Anyone who knows anything about the immense problems of manned missions to Mars will want to hear about how Tito intends to raise the estimated $1.5bn-$2bn (£1bn-£1.3bn) that it will cost to send two people to Mars and back again.

Tito, a former Nasa scientist who made his fortune in financial investment, is believed to be in contact with other self-made billionaires with an interest in space flight, including Elon Musk, the Paypal entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, the private space company.

One possibility is that a privately-funded mission could raise money through TV rights and internet deals. The public could be invited to pay for exclusive access to on-board camcorders or the privilege of talking to the crew – some commentators have even suggested some kind of reality TV deal.

Anu Ojha, the director of the UK National Space Academy in Leicester, said that the global space community is agog at the thought that a group of extremely wealthy individuals could club together to fund a “quick and simple” manned mission to the Red Planet.

“I am more excited about this than any human spaceflight story I’ve seen or heard about being planned since I was a kid – but it all depends on the funding question,” Mr Ojha said.

“This could be the biggest space adventure since the Apollo programme. In fact it is Apollo 8 on steroids, but without the funding it’s dead in the water,” he said.

Apollo 8 was the first manned space flight that took astronauts beyond Earth orbit. It was a trailblazer mission in that, for the first time, men made a simple return trip to the Moon, orbiting the lunar landscape 10 times before coming back home.

With the Inspiration Mars mission, “the returns in terms of understanding human physiology and psychology in long-duration spaceflight would re-write the textbooks,” Mr Ojha said.

“As an exemplar of human endurance and exploration, it is totally unprecedented. This would be an Apollo 8 moment – but lasting a year and a half rather than six days and with no meaningful abort options once on its way.”

Professor Martin Rees, the astronomer royal, agreed that technically the mission is far simpler than sending a manned Mars orbiter and lander, but the physical and psychological issues faced by the crew would be formidable.

“The Mars trip would be more of an ordeal than a Moon-loop trip, though no more than what Ranulph Fiennes was trying to do, and would require more provisions. But it’s not technically crazy – and hugely simpler than a Mars landing,” Professor Rees said.

The Mars Inspiration mission plans to use the Falcon Heavy rockets made by SpaceX to launch the company’s Dragon space module, the first private spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. Dragon, however, is little more than 14ft long and 12 ft wide, although extra living space could be made available with the addition of a Bigelow “inflatable” module.

But even so, the living conditions will be more Spartan than the recent Mars 500 ground mission in Moscow where six “astronauts” simulated in a scientific institute what it was like to live together in close confinement on a 520-day “space mission”, which ended in January.

A technical paper to be presented at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in Montana this weekend, co-authored by Tito and Clark, says that conditions on board the Dragon module will be testing. “Crew comfort is limited to survival needs only. For example sponge baths are acceptable, with no need for showers,” it says.

Apart from the psychological problems associated with claustrophobia and the limited room for exercise and other bodily functions, there will be the ever-present problem of a coronal mass ejection from the Sun, which could send out a stream of high-energy particles and radiation that could seriously harm the astronauts.

Although in 2018 the Sun will be going through a quiet phase of its 11-year sunspot cycle time, a coronal mass ejection is still possible, which would put the crew in serious risk of injury or even death.

But perhaps this will be the least of their worries on a journey where there isn’t much else to do but look at the stars and dream of home.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Technical Sales Manager

£45000 - £53000 Per Annum plus bonus plus package: The Green Recruitment Compa...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor