Last night I wrote here about news of a proposed private Mars mission slated to be announced on February 27th, involving Dennis Tito and others. I was skeptical last night that this would be, as some have reported, a human mission, given the technical and financial challenges involved. That original speculation, though, might be wrong.
The IEEE Aerospace Conference is taking place next month in Big Sky, Montana. If you look closely at the conference schedule on Sunday, March 3, you’ll see this session at 9:50 pm (!): “8.0105 Feasibility Analysis for a Manned Mars Free Return Mission in 2018″. The speaker listed is none other than Dennis Tito, with several co-authors: John Carrico, Grant Anderson, Michael Loucks, Taber MacCallum, Thomas Squire, Jonathan Clark. MacCallum and Clark are slated to join Tito at the February 27th Inspiration Mars Foundation press conference in Washington.
This publication obtained a copy of the paper Tito et al. plan to present at the conference, discussing a crewed free-return Mars mission that would fly by Mars, but not go into orbit around the planet or land on it. This 501-day mission would launch in January 2018, using a modified SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket. According to the paper, existing environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) technologies would allow such a spacecraft to support two people for the mission, although in Spartan condition. “Crew comfort is limited to survival needs only. For example, sponge baths are acceptable, with no need for showers,” the paper states.
NASA would also have a role in this mission in terms of supporting key ECLSS and thermal protection system technology development, although the paper makes clear this would be a private-sector effort. (The paper’s co-authors include NASA Ames director Pete Worden.) The paper makes no attempt to estimate the cost of the mission, beyond concluding that it “would be significantly less than previous estimates for manned Mars missions” and be financed privately. The paper adds that if they miss this favorable 2018 opportunity, the next chance to take advantage of this favorable trajectory would be in 2031.