To take advantage of a unique window of opportunity that will open in January 2018, the Inspiration Mars Foundation has announced that it plans to send a manned mission to Mars funded at least in part by philanthropic giving.
The launch would need to take place by early 2018 to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment that will not occur again until 2031, although the historic journey to Mars and back would still take more than five hundred days. The planned mission involving a two-person crew — most likely a middle-age married couple so as to minimize the longer-term consequences of radiation damage to sperm and eggs — also will coincide with an eleven-year solar minimum. Flying as private citizens, the crew will embark on what is known as a "fast, free-return" mission, passing within a hundred miles of Mars before swinging back and returning to Earth.
The mission will be built around proven, existing space transportation systems and technologies developed by private industry, NASA, and countries involved in the International Space Station. The mission system will consist of a modified capsule launched out of Earth orbit using a single propulsive maneuver to achieve the proper Mars trajectory. An inflatable habitat module will be deployed after launch and detached prior to re-entry. Closed-loop life support and operational components inside the vehicle will be designed for simplicity and "hands-on" maintenance and repair. Foundation officials are in talks with several U.S. commercial aerospace companies about prospective launch and crew vehicles and systems.
Founded by private space traveler Dennis Tito, Inspiration Mars will work to provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering, and education opportunities while reaching out to American youth to expand their vision of space exploration. According to the Washington Post, there is no funding for the project beyond a two-year research and development commitment by Tito, who spent $20 million of his own funds to become the first private citizen in space.
The price tag for the mission is expected to exceed $1 billion, and Tito said he will work with a wide variety of partners to raise funds for the mission. "With the support of NASA and an evolving team of industry partners, we intend to do everything possible to take advantage of this unique opportunity for America," Tito said. "We are engaging the best minds in industry, government, and academia to develop and integrate the space flight systems and to design innovative research, education and outreach programs for the mission. This low-cost, collaborative, philanthropic approach to tackling this dynamic challenge will showcase U.S. innovation at its best and benefit all Americans in a variety of ways."