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Dennis Tito's Manned Mission to Circle Mars

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

February 21, 2013

Dennis Tito's Manned Mission to Circle Mars

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Engineer and investment manager Dennis Tito was the first "space tourist" with a visit to the International Space Station (ISS). Now he wants to be the first person to make a 500 day round trip to make a pass around Mars in 2018.

Details of Tito's proposed mission are currently scarce, with a brief media advisory for a February 27 press conference. "The Planets are Aligning for a Once-in-a-Generation Space Journey" announces the formation of the "Inspiration Mars Foundation" not-for-profit, lead by Dennis Tito. The press conference will discuss "a unique window of opportunity to launch an historic journey to Mars in back in 501 days, starting in January 2018."

Billed as a "Mission for America," the to-be-described effort will generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the "next great era of space exploration."  

"It is 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," continues the release. "The Inspiration Mars Foundation is committed to accelerating America's human exploration of space as a critical catalyst for future growth, national prosperity, new knowledge and global leadership."

Miles O'Brien will be the moderator of the press conference, with participants including Tito; Taber MacCallum, chief executive officer and chief technology officer of Paragon Space Development Corporation, and crew member for two-year mission in Biosphere 2; Dr. Jonathan Clark, associate professor of Neurology and Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and space medicine advisor for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute; Jane Poynter, president and chairwoman of Paragon Space Development Corporation and crew member for two-year mission in Biosphere 2.

For a 500 day mission to Mars, you're going to need robust and efficient life support systems for air and water recycling, which is where Paragon Space Development comes in. The company is a leading developer of thermal control and life support systems, delivering biological life support systems to NASA and having flown missions on MIR, space shuttle and ISS. The company has developed life support systems under NASA's Commercial Crew Development Program, and development for space suit life support systems.

Tito has put some serious thought into the 501 day mission. An engineer by training and a former scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Tito will be presenting a "Feasibility Analysis for a Manned Mars Free Return Mission in 2018" paper at the March IEEE (News - Alert) Aerospace Conference.

The mission would use a modified SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket in January 2018, according to New Space Journal look at the paper. Existing life support systems would enable the Dragon to support two people in "Spartan" conditions -- no showers, sponge baths only. Costs for the effort aren't estimated other than to say they would be "significantly less than previous estimates for manned Mars mission" and be privately funded.

Some are speculating that Tito may launch the January 2018 mission with plants and animals, rather than bodies. I suspect if Tito is serious about managing risk in sending human beings on a 500 day trip, one or two long-duration in-space trials with animals and plans might be conducted before 2018. 

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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