Multimillionaire space tourist Dennis Tito has established Inspiration Mars Foundation a nonprofit intended to organize a mission to Mars by 2017. The project's chief technical officer Taber MacCallum dubbed this a no-frills, 'Lewis and Clark trip to Mars'.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.
A nonprofit foundation wants to recruit a man and a woman - possibly a married couple - for a bare-bones, 501-day journey to Mars and back that would start in less than five years, project organizers said on Wednesday.
The mission, expected to cost upwards of $1 billion, would be privately financed by donations and sponsorships.
Project founder Dennis Tito, a multimillionaire who in 2001 paid $20 million for a trip to the International Space Station, said he will pay start-up costs for two years to begin development of life-support systems and other critical technologies.
Currently, there are no U.S. human spaceships in operation, but several are under development and expected to be flying by 2017.
That leaves little time to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment that would allow a craft to loop around Mars, coming as close as about 150 miles (241 kilometers) to the planet's surface, before returning to Earth.
The launch window for the mission opens on Jan. 5, 2018. The next opportunity is not until 2031.
"If we don't make 2018, we're going to have some competition in 2031," Tito told Reuters.
"By that time, there will be many others that will be reaching for this low-hanging fruit, and it really is low-hanging fruit," said Tito, who set up the nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation to organize the mission.
Project chief technical officer Taber MacCallum said U.S. industry is up for the challenge.
"That's the kind of bold thing we used to be able to do," said MacCallum, who also oversees privately owned Paragon Space Development Corp.
"We've shirked away from risk. I think just seriously contemplating this mission recalibrates what we believe is a risk worth taking for America," he said.