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article imageDennis Tito unveils plans to send married couple to Mars in 2018

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 28, 2013 in Science
An organization founded by the world's first space tourist, the American millionaire Dennis Tito, is embarking on an ambitious project to launch the first manned mission to Mars in 2018. The organization says it is seeking a married crew for the mission.
Tito became the world's first space tourist in 2001 when he paid $20 million to the Russian Federal Space Agency to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in a Soyuz space capsule.
AP reports that Tito's Inspiration Mars Foundation plans to take advantage of close approach of the orbits of Earth and Mars for a flyby mission to Mars in 501 days. A technical paper for the mission recommends the launch to take place on Jan. 5, 2018; the Mars flyby on Aug. 20, 2018, and a return to Earth on May 21, 2019.
Space.com reports Tito said: "There are rare opportunities to actually go out to Mars and come back in a relatively short time, about 1.4 years, or 500 or so days. If one misses those opportunities, then typical flight times would be two to three years."
Tito announced the plan for a Mars flyby on February 27 at the National Press Club. At the press conference he launched the organization Inspiration Mars Foundation.
The Telegraph reports Tito said at the launch: "We have not sent humans beyond the moon in more than 40 years. I've been waiting, and a lot of people my age, have been waiting. And I think it’s time to put an end to that lapse."
An official statement by Inspiration Mars Foundation said the organization was launched "to pursue the audacious, to provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, while reaching out to American youth to expand their visions of their own futures in space exploration."
For the mission, Tito plans to use one of space capsules and rockets already available on the market. With necessary modifications, he plans to carry two people to Mars and back in 501 days. The mission will be a “return fly-by," which means the spacecraft would only fly around Mars. The Telegraph reports the mission is expected to cost between $1 billion and $2 billion. Tito hopes to fund the mission partly through television rights and by selling data to NASA and also through private donors.
According to Universe Today, Tito said it will be an American mission built around "proven, existing space transportation systems and technologies derived from industry, NASA and the International Space Station that can be available in time to support the launch date."
The reason why Tito wants a married crew is that a long space voyage for a single person in a cramped 14ft by 12ft capsule could lead to psychological complications arising from loneliness and isolation. Tito claims what many who have been through stormy relationships will contest, that the best antidote to loneliness in space is a female companion for a male astronaut (or vice-versa), preferably a married couple. But reasonably, the mission would be looking for an "easy-going" amorous couple to avoid launching mundane marital issues into the celestial realms.
Inspiration Mars says it is looking for a middle-aged couple who may have had children and therefore wouldn't mind the potential risk to their fertility of prolonged exposure to radiation in space, The Telegraph reports.
According to Space.com, Tito said: "When you're out that far and the Earth is a tiny, blue pinpoint, you're going to need someone you can hug. What better solution [than a conjugal partner] to the psychological problems you're going to encounter with that isolation?"
Chief technical officer and a potential crew member Taber Maccallum, said: "This is not going to be an easy mission, we called it the Lewis and Clark trip to Mars." He added: "It's a risk well worth taking."
According to AP, Maccallum argued that it makes sense to have a married couple on the trip because they would be able to give each other emotional support. He said, "this is very symbolic and we really need it to represent humanity with a man and a woman."
Tito admits the obvious when he says the mission will be facing big challenges but he comes to it with optimism. Universe Today reports he concedes there are good reasons not to embark on the mission but "sometimes you just have to lift anchor shove off. We need to stop being timid... Our goal is to send two people but take everyone along for the ride."
Journalist Miles O'Brien who introduced the Inspiration Mars team at a webcast announcing the mission gave reasons to embark on the mission: "If we don’t seize the moment we might miss the chance to become a multi-planet species... if we don’t do that, one day humanity might cease to exist."
Before launching Inspiration Mars Foundation, Tito put together an expert team of scientists and engineers to study the proposal and hired Paragon Space Development Corporation, specialists in life support systems. The team also included space medicine expert Jonathan Clark of Baylor College of Medicine. Using the Dragon space capsule built by the private firm Space Exploration Technologies as a model, the team considered in detail the requirements, such as life support systems and radiation protection measures, to sustain a two-crew team on a 501-day deep space voyage. The team concluded that the mission is feasible, but pointed out that the Dragon capsule has never been used to launch people, only cargo.
Tito isn't expecting to make any profits off the project. The former engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said his goal was to inspire the nation and test out technologies that will be used in future Mars landings. He said: "This is a philanthropic mission. When this mission is completed, I don’t end up with a company. I'll end up a lot poorer actually."
Space.com reports he commented on the feasibility of the project, saying: "I've seen others come out with fantasy missions that in no way will actually occur. I didn't want to fall into that... I think this is the real deal. It doesn't mean it's not difficult. We've got a long way to go to make it happen. But it's certainly a doable thing. I'm absolutely committed to make this happen."
AP reports NASA officials have expressed support for the project, saying it is in line with the goal of the Obama administration to encourage private individuals in the space flight industry.
NASA spokesman David Steitz, said: "It's a testament to the audacity of America's commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America's citizen-explorers. NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually beneficial activities that could complement NASA's human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans."
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