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20 Nov, 2013 21:39

Red Christmas: Billionaire eyes private Mars mission in 2017

Red Christmas: Billionaire eyes private Mars mission in 2017

Billionaire Dennis Tito has revealed his scheme for dispatching two astronauts to the red planet as early as December 2017, saying that ‘rare alignments’ of planets should be exploited as the context of the project.

‘Inspiration Mars’ would be a 501-day US mission to the planet without landing on its surface and would take the opportunity of a rare alignment of Mars and earth so that the mission would require minimal rocket fuel, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Two separate trips would be necessary for the Mars Mission – Tito proposed that the first launch would involve a NASA rocket delivering the vehicle into orbit that would actually go onto Mars, and the second would take the astronauts which would later be united with their spacecraft.

“We propose to send a spacecraft bearing two astronauts, a man and woman, to the far side of Mars and return them to Earth, a voyage of 314 million miles in 501 days, in collaboration with NASA, in the name of America, and for the good of humanity,” stated the “Architecture Report Study” released by the Inspiration Mars team.

NASA is producing a new rocket to be used in the mission. The Space Launch System (SLS), which is expected to be finished by 2017. However, it has not yet issued a response to Tito’s proposal.

Tito’s organization would also use the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s new Cygnus capsule which finished its first mission to the international space station in October. He rejected NASA’s new Orion capsule, stating that it wouldn’t meet mission requirements.

This photo courtesy of NASA shows the Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard, as it launches from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), September 18, 2013.(AFP Photo / NASA)

Tito later testified before the House Science Subcommittee on Space, stating: “The work of this subcommittee … gave NASA the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion program, and new commercial capabilities. We propose to combine all these elements, as we have explained in (the) Architecture Study Report.” He added that “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.”

The window of opportunity for takeoff is very narrow, and to maximize it the rocket would have to launch between Christmas Day 2017 and January 5 2018. This could prove difficult as delays in space travel are notoriously common. “Even the very movement of planets seems to be saying ‘Go’,” the report states.

NASA has recently launched its ‘Maven’ orbiter into space, which is expected to reach Mars by September. The spacecraft will have to travel millions of miles and enter Mars’ atmosphere which could never happen – out of the ten orbiters sent previously by NASA, only seven have been successful.

Russia plans to land a rover on Mars in 2018, rehabilitating its space program after the embarrassing failure of its Phobos-Grunt survey mission. There is also collaboration between Finnish, Russian and Spanish participants on a plan to deliver several dozen landers to Mars to form a meteorological observation network on its surface.

“Given Russia’s clear recognition of the value and prestige of accomplishments in human space exploration, and their long-time interest in exploring Mars, my personal belief is that in all likelihood the Energia super-heavy rocket revival announcement signals Russian intent to fly this mission in 2021,” Tito told the committee.