Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mission to Mars by private individual

A hot topic recently is Dennis Tito's plan to send two people to Mars. Frankly, it is ludicrous. He is already in the books as one of the world's wealthiest men, now an extension is made to be the first to Mars with humans. Logistics, mechanics, human complications, short range statistics of efficacy on reliability of the equipment. Many negatives. At least the financing is his own [and  supporters] and not the government's. It's his money, but it could be spent more wisely to ease human starvation or elimination of a disease.

"First-ever space tourist plans mission to Mars"

February 27th, 2013


The world's first space tourist, US multimillionaire Dennis Tito, unveiled plans Wednesday to send a manned mission to Mars and back, targeting a launch date less than five years away.

The two space travelers wouldn't land on the Red Planet -- or even enter its orbit -- just fly through the vicinity and back, a trajectory Tito said would take 501 days, thanks to a rare planetary alignment.

The US space agency has aimed for the 2030s in its vague projections for a manned mission to Mars, and is focusing in the shorter term on sending robots, like the Curiosity rover that landed with much fanfare last summer.

Tito's non-profit Inspiration Mars, by contrast, is starting essentially from scratch, with neither a vehicle nor a clear source of funding.

Still, the mission is "achievable," insisted Taber MacCallum, the foundation's chief technology officer and the head of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

"Experts have reviewed the risks, rewards and aggressive schedule, finding that existing technologies and systems only need to be properly integrated, tested and prepared for flight."

By foregoing a landing, the mission lessens the risks and simplifies the maneuvering required.

Such a mission would likely cost between $1 billion and $2 billion, according to Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, a group that campaigns for the exploration and settlement of the planet.

Inspiration Mars said it is not looking to NASA for the money, but will instead raise funds through "private, charitable donations."

In a statement, the foundation said it would act as the mission's "primary contractor," gathering technology, expertise and skills from a variety of companies and individuals, including Paragon and Applied Defense Solutions.

"Human exploration of space is a critical catalyst for our future growth and prosperity," said Tito, 72.

"This is 'A Mission for America' that will generate knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration."

NASA welcomed the Tito's announcement, saying the program is "a testament to the audacity of America's commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America's citizen-explorers," and that it would continue talks on possible a collaboration with Inspiration Mars.

But space expert John Logsdon was less enthusiastic, saying the proposed mission was "not impossible, but implausible."

Logsdon, a former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, highlighted major challenges for financing and the technical execution, as well as the high risk for the crew.

"Once they start on a trip, they cannot come back... or turn around," he said.

In 2001, Tito was the first non-astronaut to fly into space, when he bought a seat on a Russian Soyuz mission for a week-long stay at the International Space Station.

"This Is How Dennis Tito Plans To Send People to Mars"


Keith Cowing

February 27th, 2013


The closest that the spacecraft would get to Mars would be ~100 km - and the crew would only spend 10 hours within that distance of the planet - with closest approach on the night side. Not too different than the first human mission to the Moon when all things are taken into account

Upon return, the Dragon capsule would use Earth's atmosphere to slow down via aerobraking. This has never been done with a human mission before. Ten days after aerobraking the Dragon capsule would return again to Earth and reenter at 14.2 km/sec. This would be the fastest reentry by any crewed spacecraft - ever. As such, this mission will require some advanced Thermal Protection System research. To that end Paragon/Inspiration Mars have already signed a reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center. A check for $100,000 has already been presented to NASA to begin this work.

Since this IEE paper began to circulated, the Inspiration Mars Foundation has started to look at other mission concepts using different spacecraft and launch vehicles. As with the IEEE paper, the focus has been to use things that either exist or are expected to become available in the next several years.

The Dragon-based mission concept would require rather cramped quarters. Indeed the paper says: "The ECLSS was assumed to meet only basic human needs to support metabolic requirements of two 70 kg men, with a nominal metabolic rate of 11.82 MJ/d. Crew comfort is limited to survival needs only. For example, sponge baths are acceptable, with no need for showers ... Personal provisions are limited to items such as clothing and hygiene products."

In the weeks after this paper was submitted, Inspiration Mars has been looking at other concepts including an inflatable module placed at the nose of the crew capsule - something similar to what Bigelow Aerospace will be putting on the International Space Station (ISS). In order to limit use of internal volume, the mission concept also does away with all EVA provisions (spacesuits etc). This means that there is no way to fix things - or install things outside of the spacecraft - thus requiring all systems to be serviceable from inside the spacecraft. If this no-EVA approach is taken, then adding inflatable modules to the front of the crew capsule becomes problematic. Regardless of the final design they adopt, mass limitations are likely to force that final design to be rather cramped.

The initial SpaceX hardware concept uses only one launch. Adopting a mission that uses more than one launch increases cost and complexity. But that's nothing new. How much will it cost? Who knows. They have not settled on a mission architecture yet - but this will probably be in the hundreds of millions/half billion dollar range by the time it is all figured out. Again, unlike all the other space projects that have sprouted of late, Tito is a very wealthy man and is prepared to write some rather large checks. That fact alone moves this idea from giggle factor to the verge of credibility. Tito can afford to spend significant sums to figure this out. But, given the calendar aspects of his mission, he does not have time on his side.

Given the compressed schedule, assuming a launch in January 2018, one would assume that the mission design would need to be done very quickly and completed certainly no later than a year from now. Launch vehicle selection would likely need to be done in a similarly prompt time frame. Whatever rocket(s) are chosen, they need to be ordered and built. Unlike many missions, these trajectories have constrained launch windows that don't lend themselves to delays. As such development time will be highly compressed.

Based on this tight schedule and cost limitations it is rather unlikely that a full-up test mission will be possible to test everything out beforehand. As such, it would seem that the first time that the fully integrated and operational Inspiration Mars mission hardware flies will be the actual mission itself. Once the crew deaprts there is no turning back. This is somewhat risky to say the least. Its like putting a crew and full passenger load on a new jetliner design for its very first flight and then sending it off on an intercontinental mission with only one option: land at the final destination.

While we have all become risk adverse these days, this would not be the first time something like this is done in space. The Space Shuttle had four drop tests off of a Boeing 747 to see if the shuttle design would glide and land. The first time a Space Shuttle actually went into space and back was on a real mission - with a real crew. But the real similarity can be found in the Apollo 8 mission. A crew was put inside a spacecraft that had only flown once atop a booster that had only been flown twice before, on a trajectory to the Moon - with only one engine to modify its path. As was seen on Apollo 13, there was a razor thin margin of possible response to the failure of that propulsion system - an option that was simply not available on Apollo 8.

The IEEE paper spends a lot of time discussing various life support (ECLSS) concepts, but does not seem to refer to specific hardware already in use on the Dragon or elsewhere as being proposed for use on this mission. Add in the reliability and servicing/repair requirements and is probably safe to assume that many of the designs will be more or less unique to this mission. Without a chance to fly the vehicle in space, one would expect that a rather robust ground-based engineering version (perhaps several) would be needed.

The paper does make short mention of radiation - but only in a general sense saying that it will be provided for. Given that Jon Clark is involved, you can be certain that this issue is not going to be overlooked. While the mission's trajectory has been optimized for a 2018-2019 mission due to celestial mechanics, it has the unfortunate fact of falling in the middle of a period of minimal solar activity.

In orbits close to the Earth, such as occupied by the International Space Station, Earth's geomagnetic field offers significant protection against Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR) and energetic solar flare protons. As such, crews on the ISS, while exposed to more radiation than on Earth, are none the less protected to a great extent when compared to regions outside Earth's magnetic field. Shielding and storm shelter locations allow greater protection when conditions warrant - and in a potentially lethal solar event scenario, they could come home in a matter of hours.

Outside the Earth's magnetic field, there is some lesser level of protection still offered due to the activity of the sun itself. However, during a solar minimum, the point in the 11 year solar cycle when the sun's activity is lowest, the sun's ability to ward off CGR is at its lowest. As such, possible exposure to astronaut crews traveling in interplanetary space is at its highest. Some predictions for Solar Cycle 25 suggest an unusually quiet period for the sun. If things continue as predicted, the sun would be reaching its lowest activity levels of the space exploration era during the planned timeline of this mission, thus presenting the highest level of potential GCR exposure to the crew. Add in the unusual quiescence of the sun, and this could be especially hazardous. Again, this can be handled with shielding but that requires mass and volume which is already preciously short.

Other factors to consider include the effects of prolonged weightlessness and psychological issues. 50 years of human spaceflight has led to a collection of countermeasures that seem to limit many (but not all) of the deleterious aspects of prolonged weightlessness. Exercise is more or less the prime countermeasure for bone and muscle loss although some pharmacologic approaches have been explored. To date the longest single exposure of a human as been 437 days. A 501 day mission would be only 2 months longer but not problematic per se.

As for psychological issues - the paper does make reference to them and suggests the possibly of putting candidate crews through a ground based simulation 6 months in duration - and perhaps for the entire 500 day period. Given the fact that there are only 1,800 or so days until launch, expecting the flight crew to spend more than a third of that time simulating a full mission - and then doing it again (for real) becomes problematic.

Sources report that it is the intention of Inspiration Mars to have a crew comprised of a man and a woman. Given that the prime purpose of this mission is to inspire people it follows that the crew actually represents everyone. While this is an assumption, it would follow that the crew is more likely to be a couple. Then the questions arises: can you and your significant other live inside a large RV for a year and a half without being able to totally get away from one another - even for 5 minutes? If so, then you two should apply. Several of the Paragon authors on this paper (Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter) are veterans of the 2-year Biosphere II mission - so there is certainly some personal experience there.

Even if a robust spacecraft is designed with every contingency considered, time, cost, and mass will force some limits. It is unlikely that NASA would send a mission without significantly more redundancy and backup systems. But NASA is NASA. This is a private expedition - not a NASA mission.

Given that the crew are likely to be private citizens - not government employees, they can decide to accept certain mission risks. No one really jumps in front of anyone wanting to climb Mt. Everest - except, of course, journalists looking for an interview and government officials wanting so to be paid a climbing permit fee. So why should a totally private mission to another summit of sorts - i.e. Mars - be any different?

I have seen this sort of risk acceptance with my own eyes. In 2009 I spent a month living at an altitude of 17,600 feet at Everest Base Camp supporting Astronaut Scott Parazynski in his successful attempt to reach the summit. We both took physical risks - Scott much more than I. But we both had to sign lots of lengthy waivers, bring lots of medications, risk sudden death from totally unexpected (and possibly untreatable) things (stroke, heart attack, or edema), and perform regular countermeasures designed to limit the increased physical risk we placed ourselves in by living and working at these altitudes. And there were thousands of people around us who accepted the same risks.

Accepting known and increased personal risk is something that people have done as part of exploration since exploration began. Indeed, risk goes hand in hand with exploration. Again, we should allow - and expect - that the Inspiration Mars team will exercise the same personal acceptance process as other explorers have before them.

So why does Dennis Tito want to do this? You'll have to ask him that. Again, one thing is clear: he's looking to spend money on this - not make money. He's already made his money - and (in case you still do not know who he is) has been there, done that when it comes to space travel. Tito was the first person to pay his own way into space back in 2001. He has the means to attempt this mission and he has a track record.

Some insight into the rationale for this mission can be found in the IEEE paper: "Sending humans on an expedition to Mars will be a defining event for humanity as well as an inspiration to our youth. Social media provides an opportunity for people to meaningfully participate in the mission, likely making this the most engaging human endeavor in modern history. The mission will address one of the most fundamental technical challenges facing human exploration of space, keeping the humans alive and productive in deep space."

Given that NASA's current plans (totally unfunded) to send humans to Mars are a decade or two away, and the human mission to an asteroid that NASA is supposed to be working on is uninteresting to the agency, yet another generation of Americans will likely grow up seeing people only going in circles overhead on the ISS. The Inspiration Mars mission has the potential to jump start public interest in space again by actually going somewhere - perhaps in a way that echoes what I and many others saw as young children in the 1960s as Apollo went from nothing to the finish line in a scant 8 years.

The public is interested in space. They always have been - but that interest is episodic and often fickle. Public interest (and one would hope, inspiration) seems to manifest itself the most when NASA or other space agencies do something totally new or when new worlds are actually explored. Despite the engineering accomplishment inherent in the ISS, it just goes in circles. Yes, it is a place where we learn how to do long duration missions (someday) but the preparation for these missions is like watching grass grow. Its hard to tell people that this will all lead to something decades from now.

But the mission contemplated by Inspiration Mars will actually do something - and the launch date is easy to plan for. You can even set a calendar alarm for it on your iPhone.

"Honeymoon to Mars? Multimillionaire makes proposal"


Dan Vergano

February 28th, 2013


Mars or bust. Multimillionaire space tourist Dennis Tito announced details of his plans to finance a round-trip visit to the Red Planet by two spacefarers at a press briefing Wednesday.

The "Mission for America" plan is to ship two astronauts to Mars and back in 501 days, starting Jan. 5, 2018, under the auspices of Tito's Inspiration Mars Foundation. Tito, 73, was the first space tourist, visiting the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket in 2001, at a reported cost of $20 million.

"We have not sent people beyond the orbit of the moon in 40 years," Tito said, at the briefing. "I don't want to wait any longer. We need to do something innovative and exciting."

That something would be a "free return" Mars mission where the initial rocket firing from Earth would carry two astronauts on a 227-day trip to Mars, coming within 70 miles of the nighttime side of the Red Planet. At that point, the planet's gravity would send them back "like a boomerang," Tito said, on a 274-day return trajectory for Earth, without firing any rockets. "The beauty of this mission is in its simplicity," he said.

The Mars visitors (Tito wants a married U.S. couple) would travel to the Red Planet in an inflated habitat module with about 300 square feet of room. The plan draws heavily from the Biosphere 2 experiment of the early 1990s, where a group of volunteers endured two contentious years in a sealed environment in Oracle, Ariz., to explain how space travelers would endure a year and a half in space. "They will need to be very even-keeled," said mission adviser Jane Poynter of Paragon Space Development in Tucson, Ariz., a former Biosphere 2 team member. The screening process aims to find a volunteer couple within a year.

Tito predicted the cost of the mission at around the price of robotic missions such as NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Curiosity rover, and said he intended to raise funds from donors and commercial sponsors. That's about 100 times less than some past cost estimates for a manned landing on Mars. The National Geographic Society is in talks with Tito's Inspiration Mars Foundation about a potential partnership with the 2018 mission

"If they are not spending government money, then I'm all for it," said veteran space policy analyst Marcia Smith of "However, I'm very skeptical," Smith added, citing the current clamor for wealthy philanthropists to sponsor space ventures, such as asteroid warning systems that might protect Earth and look like a more useful and prestigious use of charitable donations.

"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,"
said space agency spokesman David Steitz, in a statement.

The proposed trip would rely on planned Falcon Heavy rockets under development by Elon Musk's SpaceX corporation, which will be even larger than the heaviest current U.S. rockets. Tito's team estimates the rocket could send 10 tons of cargo, half of it living supplies and equipment, to Mars. SpaceX last year announced its first commercial contract and Defense Department contract for the heavy rocket, intended for launch this year or next.

"SpaceX does not have a relationship with the Inspiration Mars Foundation," SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra said. "However, SpaceX is always open to providing a full spectrum of launch services to interested customers."

Along with the Biosphere 2 experience, spacefarers have endured more than 400 days in orbit, noted mission medical adviser Jonathan Clark of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. A European Space Agency effort that simulated a 520-day Mars trip ended in 2011. In that case, six men lived inside a 720-square-foot module for much of the experiment. However, astronauts traveling to Mars would face a dangerous radiation environment, likely pushing them to a 3% lifetime risk of cancer, Clark says, a cut-off point for astronauts.

Also they would have to survive the fastest re-entry ever into Earth's atmosphere by astronauts on their return, around 31,760 miles-per-hour.

Tito made his fortune introducing quantitative analysis to Wall Street, but worked for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an engineer in the 1960s, before turning to finance. Noting that he will be in his 90s when the orbital window for the "free return" mission opens again in 2031, Tito said, "we better go this time or there will be a whole lot of other nations leaving with us in 2031."

"Private Plan to Send Humans to Mars in 2018 Might Not Be So Crazy"


Adam Mann

February 27th, 2013


An ambitious private manned mission to Mars aims to launch a two-person crew to fly around the Red Planet and return to Earth in 501 days, starting in January 2018.

This bold undertaking is planned by the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a non-profit company founded by millionaire and space tourist Dennis Tito that was officially unveiled on Feb. 27 after early details leaked. Though the spacecraft would not land humans on Mars or even put them in orbit, it would bring people within a few hundred kilometers of the Martian surface — roughly the same distance between the International Space Station and Earth — and represent a major milestone in human spaceflight. If successful, the mission would go down in history as the first time a private company accomplished something government agencies were unable to do in space.

The mission is extremely ambitious, well beyond anything previously accomplished by the private sector and it faces plenty of obstacles. The company has an aggressive schedule to keep if it wants to hit its 2018 mark and needs to make sure the necessary technology is developed and well-tested. Despite its deep-pocketed backer, the mission has nowhere near the funding it needs to launch and will require raising greater sums than have ever been done for a private space endeavor. Its designers also need to figure out exactly how to keep the crew healthy, both physically and psychologically, for the 501-day duration of the flight as they face dangers from radiation, bone and muscle loss, fatigue, and depression. Mission designers will have to ensure they can get the crew safely to the ground when the capsule returns to Earth at a screaming 30,000 mph.

Yet despite these hurdles, of all the bold announcements from private spaceflight companies in recent years, this one seems the most achievable.

“The reason this entire thing is possible is because it’s actually a very simple mission,” said Jane Poynter, president of the Paragon Space Development Corporation, which makes life-support systems and has partnered with Inspiration Mars. “We’re not trying to land, we’re going to fly by and we’re using extant technologies that NASA and the space industry have been developing for years.”

Inspiration Mars isn’t looking to sell a product in an unknown market, like the asteroid-mining Planetary Resources or the national-moon-ferrying Golden Spike Company, and doesn’t have incredibly aspirational aims, like the planet-colonizing Mars One. It hopes to undertake a straightforward mission that could spur innovation, inspire young scientists and engineers, and move human spaceflight forward.

“You have to have a reasonable degree of skepticism and realism,” said Taber MacCallum, who co-founded Paragon with Poynter (and is also her husband). “We might run into some insurmountable obstacle 18 months in. But with proper engineering, support, and a good mess of luck, we could see this done.”
Now all they have to do is actually fly to Mars.

As currently outlined, the Inspiration Mars mission would be departing on what’s known as a “fast free return trajectory,” which both minimizes the amount of time spent in space and the amount of fuel required. A spacecraft would fire its rockets for a single burn to set off to Mars, make a few course corrections on the way, circumnavigate the Red Planet, and then slingshot back home using Mars’ gravity, negating the need for another burn. Because of the positions of Earth and Mars, opportunities for such quick flybys happen only every 15 years and, if they miss the 2018 deadline, the next chance won’t come until 2031.

Paragon estimates that the mission would need to launch a 10-ton spacecraft with roughly 33 cubic meters of volume, equivalent to the space in the back of a large moving van. About half that volume would be taken up with water tanks, food, and life support, leaving a cramped living space with an area barely bigger than a parking space. That means putting two people in a room for 1.4 years that’s probably smaller than your bathroom.

The crew would process urine and flush water to recycle about 75 percent of it as drinkable water. They would carry the bare minimum of personal provisions, such as clothing and hygiene items. An initial feasibility study co-authored by Poynter, MacCallum, Dennis Tito, and others didn’t make allowances for privacy, separate sleeping quarters, or even showers (just sponge baths) in the habitat, but it remains to be seen how these ideas would evolve for a real mission.

No existing launch vehicle is large enough to get such a mass into space, though SpaceX plans to have its Falcon Heavy rocket ready within a few years. If SpaceX is unable to meet that deadline, the mission could use two smaller existing launch vehicles, one to bring the tank carrying the rocket engines and necessary fuel and another to launch the crew habitat, which complicates the mission and could make it more expensive.

The number one danger during the journey will be radiation. Whether charged particles streaming from the sun or galactic cosmic rays accelerated by distant sources, space is chock full of radiation. Humans on Earth are protected from this fallout by our magnetic field, which also shields astronauts on the ISS. But out in deep space, the crew of a 500-day trip would be exposed to total radiation roughly equal to the dose an astronaut that flew five or six times to the ISS would expect to receive over their career.

Among other things, radiation damages DNA thereby raising the risk of cancer, and lowers blood cell counts. The effect would be like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day during the whole mission, MacCallum said.

The most severe event to watch out for would be a solar flare or mass ejection, where the roiling surface of the sun produces a burst of charged particles and radiation. If exposed to such an occurrence, a crew might experience nausea, vomiting, blistering, and potentially death. Apollo astronauts were spared a potentially fatal flare in 1972 that occurred between Apollo 16 and 17 but the Inspiration Mars mission would be out in space for a long time, raising the odds of getting hit.

Solar particle events like these happen randomly, though in 2018 the sun will be closer to the minimum part of its activity cycle, lessening the chances of a large event. In the case of a major event, sun-observing satellites would provide some warning and the crew could retire to a storm shelter built from vehicle hardware. But a large event or even several smaller ones could weaken astronauts’ immune systems, said radiobiologist Ann Kennedy of the University of Pennsylvania, who works on the effects of radiation for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.

With the sun at minimum the crew would be exposed to a higher rate of galactic cosmic rays than normal, and the chronic low-dose of ionizing radiation “can not be shielded against with current technology,” said radiation physicist Jeff Chancellor, also of the NSBRI.

Even surrounding the spacecraft with a huge, thick shield, something like five or six times what the ISS has, would not significantly lower galactic cosmic ray exposure, he added. In fact the more shielding you have, the worse, because the charged particles can interact with molecules in the material to produce further harmful radiation.

The crew can help counteract some of the radiation’s effects with drugs for nausea and vomiting and pills or supplements to provide the daily recommended doses of vitamins.

“My gut feeling is there’s a good chance they can do this mission, but there’s a lot left to be seen,” Chancellor said. Space travel is always risky, he added, though there is hope that further research can provide a crew with effective radiation countermeasures before 2018.

Beyond radiation, the main biomedical problem will be muscle and bone deterioration, which occurs to the human body during extended stays in microgravity. To counteract this, Poynter said it would be of the utmost importance for the crew to have an exercise machine that they use daily for several hours.

The other main crew danger will come from themselves. The tight accommodations coupled with being so far from Earth with no hope of aborting the mission once started, as well as an ever-increasing time delay could put tremendous strain on the crew psychologically. Similarly extreme isolation is rare but has occurred in overwinter crews in Antarctic base stations or simulations such as Mars500.

“In cases like that, they managed to successfully complete their mission, but it wasn’t all roses,” said Poynter. Some training could be given to handle the conditions, but the crew selection would require individuals to be resilient and upbeat for the duration of their flight.

MacCallum and Poynter favor sending a man and woman as the pair, possibly to balance out personalities but also because the crew will have a symbolic value as representatives of humanity. Given the cramped quarters, the lack of privacy, the need for cooperation and experience under similar conditions, and the dangers from radiation, the ideal crew would be “an older married couple,” said MacCallum.

When I pointed out that, with their previous experience in the Biosphere-2 experiment, he and Poynter happened to fit that description to a T, they both laughed.

“We have talked about it,” said Poynter. “And when the right time comes, I think we’ll put our hat in the ring.” But she and MacCallum added that they would be happy to be part of the mission in any way, even as ground support.

As it stands, Inspiration Mars is looking to work with NASA on their undertaking. The agency can provide a great deal of information and experience from decades of spaceflight. The company has already signed a partnership with NASA to research development of the mission’s heat shield and reentry strategy. Given that Inspiration Mars sees its mission as an important stepping stone for NASA’s long-term goals, the agency might even be able to help the mission financially, if there was enough support from the public and Congress. (Though the effects of the sequester later this week could constrain NASA’s finances.)

Currently, Tito is committed to funding the first two years of putting the Mars trip together no matter what. But even he doesn’t have unlimited money and is in talks with other potential backers. Yet so far, donors haven’t been quick to open their checkbooks and put money in private space ventures.

Though plans have yet to be finalized, MacCallum said that given the mission’s relative simplicity, he expected it would cost less than NASA’s $2.5 billion Curiosity rover, possibly putting it in the hundreds of millions or even billion-dollar range. Raising that kind of money for a private space mission has never been done before and that figure might be somewhat optimistic.

With its seven minutes of terror and Rube Goldberg landing sequence, getting Curiosity to the surface of Mars was one of the hardest engineering feats over done in space. Having humans land would be harder by an order of magnitude or more, said engineer Bobby Braun of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was formerly NASA’s chief technologist.

“I’d say having humans circumnavigate Mars and return safely to Earth is somewhere in between what Curiosity already did and having humans walk on Mars,” he said.

Braun thinks that the Inspiration Mars idea is great, and he accepts that the private sector can accomplish things for less money than governments. But “it’s also a very bold plan, particularly doing it in the timeline they want, and there’s a good deal of challenges,” he said. “I would love to see them make that 2018 launch date, but it’s pretty darn quick.”

As is continuously pointed out in articles regarding different private company plans, space is hard. Initial estimates tend to be hopeful and delays can almost always be expected. Historically, there have been many ambitious space announcements – both from public and private organizations – that were unable to deliver on their huge promises.

New ideas are always welcome. “I think this announcement is going to stop and make people reconsider the possibilities,” said Braun, but the question is whether “they will be able to have the proper follow through.”

Braun added that Inspiration Mars need not confine itself to their 2018 deadline. With slightly more fuel, the company could try for missions at many of the two-year intervals where Earth and Mars get closer.

The main goal of Inspiration Mars is to inspire a younger generation. Taber and MacCallum sound like they are hoping to create a new “Kennedy moment” that would encourage people to think big. The mission would provide scientific data sorely lacking on long-term human spaceflight. If the company were somehow able to pull it off, independent researchers would be particularly interested in the information generated from this undertaking.

“As a professor, surrounded by undergrad and graduate engineering students, something like this would light their fire,” said Braun. “It would be very exciting for science and engineering students around the country and around the world.”

Dennis Tito [Wikipedia]

No comments: