On Wednesday (27th of February) Dennis Tito announced ambitous plans to send human beings to Mars by 2018. The idea is to send a couple on what is called a free return trajectory trip to Mars. That is to say, the rocket would travel to Mars, then use a swing around the other side of Mars to come back to Earth. There are no plans in this mission to land on Mars, or even to go into orbit about the red planet. But still it is to me a very exciting project.
For those of you who have watched the episode 1968 of the series From The Earth To The Moon, which I blogged about here, you may recall that a free return trajectory is mentioned by Frank Borman’s wife when she is worried about her husband as he makes his way towards the Moon. The Apollo 8 mission did not use a free return trajectory, because NASA wanted to put the command module into orbit about the Moon.
No such manouevre is planned for this proposed trip to Mars, the space craft would simply sling-shot around Mars and come back towards Earth. The entire trip would last 501 days, and because of the necessary favourable alignment required, another opportunity for such a short sling-shot mission would not arise until 2031.
Below is an artist’s impression of the proposed rocket and capsule. The company Tito is setting up to operate this mission is called Inspiration Mars Foundation. They say they will only be using already existing technology, which they will buy from NASA and other aerospace companies and manufacturers. Should this trip take place, it will be the first time a private organisation has accomplished something in space not previously accomplished by a Government agency.
I mentioned this news item to my 11-year old daughter a few days ago, and she asked me what the point of going was if they did not intend to land on Mars. I wonder how many people share her point of view. To me, although I hope we will of course one day land on Mars and explore it in a way robots and rovers cannot, even the idea of going on a trip to Mars is an exciting one. Yes we have sent dozens of probes to Mars, but as Apollo 8 showed the World, human beings going somewhere we have not been before can inspire a new generation, and give us a perspective on our exploring that a space probe cannot.
Only two people will go on this proposed journey. Inspiration Mars Foundation say they are looking for a “mature” couple, so that they know each other well from having spent decades together, and can give each other companionship during this long trip. So, who said adventure is only for the young?