Mission to Mars
The red planet has intrigued astronomers and stargazers everywhere; even before the possibility of trans galactic travel was ever dreamt of. With recent photos pouring in from NASA’s mars rover, “Curiosity,” interest has been piqued once again about what lies beneath the red dusty surface of Earth’s mysterious neighbor. So interested is engineer, Dennis Tito and CEO Taber MacCallum, that they announced plans Wednesday, February 27, to send a couple to Mars; history’s first ever human piloted expedition to another planet.
MacCallum is the co-founder and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp., a company that develops new technologies for controlling extreme and hazardous environmental conditions. They design, build, test, and operate life support systems that have been used by NASA for trips to the International Space Station, and by deep sea divers gathering information for marine biologists.
In 2001, Tito became the first ever tourists aboard a Russian Rocket on a mission to the International Space Station. This unique experience, and his and MacCallum’s close work with NASA make them pretty good candidates to lead such a dangerous mission. They founded the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a non profit organization, that will be the face and name of the expedition. They stated that they project the cost of the mission to be just under $1 billion dollars, which MacCallum called “a figures that’s cheap” compared to the tens of billions a similar NASA effort would cost. The expedition is privately and publicly funded, with contributions coming from both MacCallum and Tito, as well as donations and fundraisers. Tito confirmed that they were not borrowing any money from NASA, whose waning budget has halted a number of programs for the administration.
As for the mission itself, lift off is scheduled for 2018, when Mars is as close to the Earth as it ever gets, an expansive 36 million miles away. The expedition will take 501 days, and will not land on the surface, but rather circle it from a mere 100 miles away. This will cut costs and make the trip safer and easier, as no one knows for sure the success rate for such an adventure. Of the mission, the moderator of the press conference, Miles o’Brien stated, “No two people will have ever been more alone than the crew of this mission,” For this reason, Tito and MacCallum wish to send a married couple on the mission, who are preferably “out of the childbearing years” due to the possibility of radiation exposure. People have already begun volunteering for the flight, but a couple will not be selected until six months to a year before the mission, to ensure that they have undergone health screenings and had time to prepare themselves for the uncertainty of the journey.
Over the next five years, mission organizers have the task of developing technology that will allow for a safe reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, as well as a vessel complete with everything necessary to sustain two people for the long journey. They are also preparing themselves for the possibility that a crew member may not return, which is likely considering the risky nature of the mission. However, the crew remain optimistic, and Tito assured the hesitant crowd, “This is a challenging but attainable goal for advancing human knowledge. Now is the time.”