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Dennis Tito plans to send couple to Mars and back

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Tight quarters 

The spacecraft will be bare-bones, with about 600 cubic feet (17 cubic meters) of living space available for a two-person crew. Mission planners would like to fly a man and a woman, preferably a married couple who would be compatible during a long period of isolation.

The capsule would be outfitted with a life-support system similar to the one NASA uses on the space station, which recycles air, water, urine and perspiration.

"This is going to be a very austere mission. You don't necessarily have to follow all of NASA's guidelines for air quality and water quality. This is going to be a Lewis and Clark trip to Mars," MacCallum said, referring to the explorers who set out across the uncharted American Northwest in 1803.

If launch occurs on Jan. 5, 2018, the capsule would reach Mars 228 days later, loop around its far side and slingshot back toward Earth.

The return trip takes 273 days and ends with an unprecedented 31,764-mph (51,119-kph) slam into Earth's atmosphere.

Once the spaceship is on its way, there is no turning back.

"If something goes wrong, they're not coming back," MacCallum said.

The crew would spend much of their time maintaining their habitat, conducting science experiments and keeping in touch with people on Earth.

Tito said he expects the cost to be similar to a robotic mission to Mars. NASA's ongoing Curiosity rover mission cost $2.5 billion. A follow-on mission scheduled to launch in 2020 is expected to run $1.5 billion.

"You're really flying this mission without a propulsion system on the spacecraft. It's in the most simple form," Tito said.

NASA is working on its own heavy-lift rocket and Orion space capsule that could carry crews of four to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

"We can just barely, every 15 years, fly by Mars with the systems we have right now," MacCallum said. "We're trying to be a stepping-stone."

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Xavier Briand)

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