American multimillionaire and the world's first paying space tourist, Dennis Tito, gestures shortly after his landing in Kazakhstan in 2001. Tito, 72, is set to announce a scheme for a “high risk” human mission to Mars. Curiosity on Mars: View the NASA rover’s images, including self-portraits, from the Red Planet.
Vowing to inspire “all Americans,” the world’s first space tourist, Dennis Tito, is set to announce a plan Wednesday for a “high risk” human mission to Mars. It would launch, by necessity of orbital mechanics, in January 2018.
Now all Tito needs is a billion dollars, give or take. And a big rocket. And a spaceship.
“It’s not nuts,” said one of Tito’s team of aerospace industry advisers ahead of an afternoon press briefing in Washington. “This is possible.”
The “Mission for America” would be a two-person, budget-class fly-by of the red planet. There will be no landing. No footprints and flags in ruddy soil, no rock-grabbing, no search for fossils.
This is strictly a blink-and-you-miss-it trip to Earth’s neighbor and back again. The 501-day journey would be about the quickest available with current rockets.
Only celestial harmony makes such a plan feasible: A once-every-15-years alignment of Earth and Mars. With the two planets’ orbits pinching as close as they ever do, a so-called low-energy trajectory could shoot a modest craft to Mars and back with minimal fuel.
Tito, 72, won’t fly the mission. Instead, he will send a man and woman — preferably married — to fairly represent humanity, said a person familiar with the plan who asked for anonymity because the public announcement has not yet been made.
A news release announcing the Inspiration Mars mission said the first human trip beyond the moon would “encourage all Americans to believe again in doing the hard things that make our nation great.”
While NASA is not funding the mission, Tito recently briefed agency leadership. “NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities,” said NASA spokesperson David Weaver.
The hardware required includes a capsule for launching and landing, a habitat module and a big rocket or several small ones.
Industry experts said Tito’s team has been in talks with several “new space” companies such as Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, as well as established aerospace contractors such as Boeing to supply the rocket and spaceship.
Tito has assembled a team that includes experts in life support systems and space medicine. A team at NASA Ames Research Center in California has already begun work on a heat shield to protect the Mars ship from the fastest atmospheric reentry ever attempted.
A technical paper Tito and his team will present at an aerospace conference next week suggests flying a modified Dragon capsule built by SpaceX, the commercial company set to launch its third non-crewed supply run to the space station on Friday. A human-rated Dragon may be available as soon as 2015, but a company spokeswoman said there was no deal in place with Tito’s group.
The mission — if Tito can pull it off — would break the deep-space barrier for the first time and reshuffle the possibilities for human space travel. The last time humans sailed beyond Earth orbit was the final Apollo moon mission in 1972.
“If you have a billion or two dollars, it’s technically feasible,” said Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society and a longtime proponent of colonizing that planet. “My main point of skepticism is not technical, it’s, ‘Do these guys have a billion dollars?’ ”
They apparently do not. Tito did not crack the Forbes 500 billionaires list, and on Wednesday he will announce the nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation to begin fundraising for this “philanthropic” flight. The foundation is in talks with the National Geographic Society and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to bring the mission into classrooms and otherwise broadcast it.
Tito began his career as a rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plotting trajectories of NASA’s first robotic missions to Mars and Venus. He then made a fortune as one of the first “quants,” who apply hard math to soft markets. He has skirted skeptics and broken the Earth-bound rules of spaceflight before. In 2001, Tito paid Russia a reported $20 million to vacation at the international space station. NASA refused to sign off on the trip until four days before launch.
In 2010, President Obama set NASA’s sights on a human Mars landing — a much more difficult mission than the one Tito plans — in the 2030s. But that mission is largely notional and unfunded.
At closest approach, Tito’s crew won’t even peep Mars’s volcanoes and valleys below. Mars itself will block their view as they slingshot around the far side — the dark side — of the planet.
Risks include deep-space radiation, missing a small “keyhole” in space near Mars and shooting out to infinity and vaporizing upon reentry. But a private venture can afford bigger risks than a taxpayer-funded NASA mission, said Roger Launius, a historian at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “They don’t need permission from anybody for an interplanetary trip.”
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon and author of the upcoming book “Mission to Mars,” said: “I’ve talked to Dennis, and I’ve strongly encouraged him. The purpose is to inspire, to say we’re going to do something and then we do it.”
NASA’s support for tracking the Mars ship and communicating with its crew is crucial, Aldrin said.
He noted the mission would return to Earth in May 2019 — just in time for the 50th anniversary of his Apollo 11 moonwalk.
Quelle: The Washington Post
Millionaire Dennis Tito has revised his plan to send a husband and wife around Mars in 2018 — and is calling on NASA to take the lead role in the mission.
"This partnership is a new model for a space mission," Tito told lawmakers on Wednesday during a Capitol Hill hearing organized by the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space. "It is not the model of traditional contracts or subsidies for vehicle developments, although those models are embedded in the NASA programs to be leveraged for this unique mission. It is a philanthropic partnership with government to augment resources and achieve even greater goals than is possible otherwise."
Inspiration Mars, the nonprofit venture that was founded by Tito earlier this year to spearhead the space effort, released a 26-page mission architecture study that supplemented his testimony. The concept was hashed out over the course of 90 days in cooperation with NASA experts, and draws heavily on technologies being developed for the space agency.
Tito initially envisioned the flyby as an effort primarily backed by private contributions, but the 90-day study determined that the mission had to be done with NASA hardware. "This is really a NASA mission," Taber MacCallum, Inspiration Mars' chief technology officer, told NBC News. "This is a mission we believe NASA should do."
In an emailed statement, NASA said it's willing to share expertise with Inspiration Mars "but is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them."
"However, we remain open to further collaboration as their proposal and plans for a later mission develop," David Weaver, the agency's associate administrator for communications, said in the email.
How to fly past Mars
Inspiration Mars' concept calls for using NASA's big but yet-to-be-built rocket, known as the Space Launch System or SLS, to put the Mars transit vehicle into Earth orbit. Then the two-person crew would be sent into orbit atop a commercial rocket — for example, a Falcon 9 or an Atlas 5 — to rendezvous with the transit vehicle. That vehicle would consist of a service module to handle avionics, control and communications; an Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo capsule, modified to serve as a deep-space habitat module; and a re-entry pod based on the Orion capsule currently being developed for NASA's use.
A beefed-up SLS upper stage would blast the transit vehicle out of Earth orbit for its long, looping ride around the Red Planet. The flight profile would follow the scenario Tito outlined when he announced the Inspiration Mars effort: Because of a favorable planetary alignment, the spacecraft could go around Mars and make a "free return" to Earth with virtually no expenditure of fuel — as long as it left Earth by January 2018.
The 314 million-mile (505 million-kilometer) trip would take 501 days, culminating in a high-speed re-entry through Earth's atmosphere and splashdown on May 21, 2019. Tito favors sending a husband and wife — not only because that would presumably make for compatible crewmates, but also because the history-making trip would thus include both genders of the human species. But NASA would play the key role in astronaut selection.
Tito said the timetable could jump-start NASA's plans to send humans around Mars — a feat that's currently scheduled for the 2030s. "Why not move this mission to the here and now, and not wait until the '30s?" he asked.
Follow the money
Tito estimated that the mission would cost less than $1 billion, and that about $300 million could be raised from private contributions. However, he said those contributions would probably come in only after the flyby launches were firmly scheduled on a manifest.
By Tito's tally, that would leave roughly $700 million in incremental costs to be covered by NASA. He noted that the space agency was already working on some of the components for the mission, including an SLS rocket that's due to be built for an unmanned, around-the-moon flight test in 2017. He said that rocket could instead be used to launch the hardware for the Inspiration Mars mission. However, in order to meet the mission requirements, work on an advanced version of the SLS' upper stage would have to be accelerated.
Tito framed the 2018 Mars mission as a challenge to American know-how and national will. "If we need a Plan B, there is a mission 88 days longer that flies by Venus before going by Mars, a unique trajectory that could be flown in 2021. However by then, another country — almost surely China — will have seen our missed opportunity, and taken the lead for themselves," he said.
He offered the subcommittee what he called "a frank word of caution."
"The United States will carry out a Mars flyby mission, or we will watch as others do it — leaving us to applaud their skill and their daring. If America is ever going to do a flyby of Mars — a manned mission to another world — then 2018 is our last chance to be first," he said.
Before Tito's testimony, the lawmakers were generally supportive of the Inspiration Mars concept. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said it was "the type of space endeavor we should encourage." But after Tito's statement, some questioned whether NASA could afford to spend several hundred million dollars on the flyby, particularly in an era of tighter federal budgets.
"Right now, I don't see evidence that a lot of money would be available," Tito acknowledged.
As it now stands, the plan would require retooling the multibillion-dollar SLS-Orion project, and entrusting mission success to a heavy-lift rocket on its very first launch. The concept also assumes that commercial space taxis will be ready to carry astronauts by 2018. NASA currently projects that the taxis will enter service by 2017 — but there's always a chance that the schedule will slip, particularly if development funding doesn't meet NASA's projections.
The 2021 scenario would be more doable. In 2021, NASA currently plans to send another SLS on a test flight around the moon with an Orion capsule and crew.
Update for 5:30 p.m. ET Nov. 20: Tito and MacCallum shed more light on the shift in the Inspiration Mars mission during a follow-up teleconference with reporters. Tito admitted that when they started looking into the Mars flyby, they had a much simpler mission profile in mind — and assumed that commercial space vehicles could handle the challenge. "We found out that it couldn't be done in the inexpensive fashion that we first thought a year ago," Tito said. "Now the price goes up. Now you're talking about using NASA resources."
MacCallum said the 90-day study was "an independent evaluation that to do these kinds of missions, you really do need SLS."
Tito said NASA would have to take steps sometime in the next few months to keep the mission on track for the crucial 2018 launch, and he hinted that legislation might be introduced in Congress next week to address the issue. However, he declined to say who might introduce the bill.
If 2018 doesn't work, Tito said he would continue to press for the 589-day Mars flyby in 2021, which he said would also bring the transit vehicle within about 500 miles of Venus. "I'm ready to stay involved," the 73-year-old investment adviser told NBC News. "I want to see this get done, [but] if somehow we're four years from now and we're in the same place and nothing is happening, then I'll probably fold, because I'm not going to wait until 2033."
Several other issues surrounding commercial spaceflight came up during the hearing:
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said "many believe that commercial spaceflight is poised to have its own 'dot-com moment' in the near future," and touted the trend as a creator of high-quality aerospace jobs.
Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., signaled House support for extending the federal provisions on commercial space launch indemnification for another year, and he suggested that the issue should be revisited when Congress considers a comprehensive commercial space bill next year. Space News, meanwhile, reported that Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., would introduce a bill extending the liability limits through 2016.
Stuart Witt, CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, said the story of his facility's involvement in commercial space development was "100 percent a good-news story." Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace are testing the technologies for their suborbital rocket planes at Mojave, and they're expected to start commercial service as early as next year. Witt said that rocket-powered hypersonic business travel from point to point "is where I see the needle moving."
In his email, NASA's David Weaver discussed commercial spaceflight in general as well as Inspiration Mars in particular. Here's the full text of the statement:
"NASA is facilitating the success of the U.S. commercial space industry, opening up new markets and supporting the creation of good-paying American jobs -- all on a path to send humans to Mars. The agency is developing its most powerful rocket to date, getting ready for a test flight of a crew capsule that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before and planning an ambitious mission to capture, redirect and explore an asteroid. We have a robust Mars exploration program with important science missions, such as Curiosity and MAVEN, to help us better understand the Red Planet. Every one of these activities is laying the groundwork for future human missions.
"At the same time, the American commercial space industry is on the rise, with multiple firms competing to explore space and create economic growth opportunities here on Earth. Two American companies have started cargo resupply operations to the International Space Station, and NASA has issued a ground-breaking request for proposals to certify private U.S. companies to fly astronauts to the space station.
"NASA has had conversations with Inspiration Mars to learn about their efforts and will continue discussions with them to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA's human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans. Inspiration Mars' proposed schedule is a significant challenge due to life support systems, space radiation response, habitats, and the human psychology of being in a small spacecraft for over 500 days. The agency is willing to share technical and programmatic expertise with Inspiration Mars, but is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them. However, we remain open to further collaboration as their proposal and plans for a later mission develop."