22 Feb 2013


There is growing buzz spreading about a manned 2018 private mission to Mars.  The organization responsible for this rumor is the Inspiration Mars Foundation, led by millionaire Dennis Tito, also the world's first space tourist.  A press conference is to be held on February 27th to officially announce a 501-day roundtrip mission launching in 2018.

The Short

  • Tito's Inspiration Mars Foundation to send a pair of astronauts to Mars and back in 501 day mission
  • Spartan living conditions in a space capsule
  • Will not go into orbit around Mars


"This 'Mission for America' will generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration," was written by Inspiration Mars Officials in a media advisory on February 20th.

It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, while inspiring youth through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and motivation.

Tito paid $20 million to visit the International Space Station back in 2001 and is founder of the Inspiration Mars Foundation.

Tito and Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, CEO and president of Paragon Space Development Corp will participate in the news conference.  Poynter has experience in life-support systems.  Also at the event will be Jonathan Clark of the Baylor College of Medicine.

It's the speakers' backgrounds that have many speculating this will be a manned mission to Mars.

Tito will also speak on March 3rd on a speech called "Feasibility Analysis for a Manned Mars Free Return Mission in 2018" at an aerospace conference in Montana, according to the NewSpace Journal.

NewSpace obtained a copy of the speech and paper.

Tito mentions "a crewed free-return Mars mission that would fly by Mars, but not go into orbit around the planet or land on it. This 501-day mission would launch in January 2018, using a modified SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket."  The report mentions it being a two-person crew with minimal living conditions such as sponge baths and no need for showers.  NASA would work with the mission in terms of supporting key environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS) and thermal protection system technology development. 

There are no estimates as to the cost of this mission, other than it "would be significantly less than previous estimates for manned Mars missions" and financed privately.  SpaceX would be involved in some way, which is not surprised given that Elon Musk has been an advocate for a manned mission to Mars and has been developing the "Red Dragon" for an eventual mission to Mars.

They also mention that 2018 is a prime target for trajectory with the next best one not being until 2031.

This mission would prove very challenging both physically and mentally for the astronauts.  Current duration lengths are around six months on the more spacious International Space Station.  There are also radiation and long term physical concerns as well.  A more recent Russian Mars500 mock mission concluded in 2011 to test these mental and physical effects of being in close quarters for such a long duration.

Overall, if this mission occurs, it would the first manned mission outside of low Earth orbit since the NASA Moon missions and the first to the Red Planet, even if not getting into Mars orbit or landing, akin to the Apollo 7 mission of 1968, though the Apollo 7 mission did go into orbit around the Moon.  This mission could set the groundwork for more private missions to Mars and sooner than previously anticipated.

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