Billionaire Dennis Tito, tired of being told that we can’t send humans to Mars just yet, on Wednesday revealed his scheme for launching two astronauts to the red planet as early as December 2017.
Dubbed “Inspiration Mars,” the fly-by mission would exploit a rare alignment of Earth and Mars that minimizes the time and the fuel it would take to get to Mars and back home again. The astronauts would come within 100 miles of the Martian surface before being slung back to Earth.
“It would be a voyage of around 800 million miles around the sun in 501 days,” Tito testified Wednesday at a hearing of the House subcommittee on space. “No longer is a Mars fly-by mission just one more theoretical idea. It can be done. Not in a matter of decades, but in a few years.”
Grab this opportunity or risk seeing China get to Mars first, the space buff told the members of Congress.
The plan has a lot of moving parts, and would require cooperation from NASA and a great deal of NASA hardware. The agency is building a jumbo rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), that is supposed to be ready for its inaugural, uncrewed test flight in 2017. Tito’s plan would essentially borrow the SLS for the mission.
NASA officials did not immediately respond to Tito’s proposal. In late October, in response to questions about possible collaboration between Inspiration Mars and NASA, the agency released a cautiously worded statement, saying, “The agency will continue discussions with them to see how NASA might collaborate on mutually beneficial activities that could complement NASA’s human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans..”
Tito’s Inspiration Mars Foundation released a feasibility study Wednesday that concluded that NASA’s new Orion capsule wouldn’t meet the mission requirements as the primary habitat for the astronauts. Instead, Tito’s organization would use the new Cygnus capsule developed by Virginia-based Orbital Corp. (formerly Orbital Sciences), which just recently made a successful, uncrewed cargo-hauling trip to the international space station.