New insights on that private (crewed?) Mars mission

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.

80 comments to New insights on that private (crewed?) Mars mission

  • Jeff

    Heinlein time is coming …

  • Coastal Ron

    I can’t imagine two people holed up in the space of a Dragon spacecraft. Just the lack of exercise alone would incapacitate them, wouldn’t it? It would be well worth the extra money to add a Bigelow module for additional volume, and as a place for all the mission supplies.

    Oh, and we’ll have to change the term we use for something exceedingly difficult, from “moon shot” (a hit or thrown ball with a very high trajectory) to “mars shot”.

  • Brian Hinson

    Food for 2 people for 500 days can fit in a Dragon? That thing is more roomie than I thought.

  • Cdub

    @Brian Assuming a 2000 calorie diet, that’s 2 million calories needed. Using a 1200 calorie MRE as a guide, they’d need a minimum of ~1667 of them, or three 48″ x 40″ x 48″ pallets worth. That’s around 160-170 cubic feet I think. Wiki says Dragon has a 353 pressurized volume. I’m sure there are lots of variables and options, but it looks like it would be tight fit no matter what.

    • Anna

      I think “modified” is a key term that’s being overlooked here.

    • Aresia

      I don’t think you’re getting into the spirit of this mission. MREs are ready to eat meals – that’s an indulgence really in this context. But the Mars Mission personnel could easily survive on much more concentrated food, specifically energy bars high in fats and sugars, and dried foods to be used with recycled water. I think you could comfortably accommodate that in about 60 cubic feet for two people.

      • Rick Sternbach

        Some years back, I saw a show about cave explorers who stayed for 30+ days. They showed what I think was a polycarbonate jar filled with highly ram-compressed camping food. A meal was made by scraping off some of the “solid” block, mixing in some water, and eating. Thirty days in a single jar sounded interesting. Scraping bits in null-g is problematic, but I’m sure there’s ways to work this.

  • martin

    heck, ill sign up now, ill do whatever training is necessary….but the question becomes, what do we do on the way. knowing that such a mission has a probability of no return, i want to do something worth the trip. if there is no landing, what science will be done on the way that cant be done from the international space station? the possible loss of bone, radiation issues, and issues regarding two people in such close proximity for a year and a half aside…what else do they need to know about space travel that hasnt been done(experience) on the space station?

  • martin

    i mean, aside from the novelty of going and coming back?

  • martin

    thats worth it, even without pay, i would still do it….train me, i learn fast and can do whatever most of the younger kids coming up now can do…..try me.

  • Michael O.

    The leap in knowledge of space travel in general would be worth it, to say nothing of the sweeping riddance of any doubts that it could be done. You “touch” Mars in this fashion, and you’d have a “double dare” for someone to land, and land to stay.

  • DMK

    As an old retired NASA “rocket scientist”, I think this private trip to Mars is a great idea.

    But now the fun part is going to be watching the spacecraft design grow as new capabilities and new requirements are identified. The idea mentioned above of adding a Bigelow inflatable module for additional storage and “float-around” living space is an excellent idea. Of course more stuff is going to be found necessary to carry along.

    But now all these new requirements are going to mean a bigger launch vehicle will be necessary – or better yet, use “Earth orbit rendezvous”. Launch part of the spacecraft into LEO with one FalconHeavy, and then launch another part of it on a 2nd FalconHeavy.

    Send up the crew and a new fully-fueled upper stage on a 3rd FalconHeavy, dock all 3 portions together and go for TMI = Trans Mars Injection. Falcon boosters are cheap enough to make this possible. And use public subscriptions to help pay for everything, with all donors being able to fly along vicariously – via on-line.

    Hell, by the time this thing blasts out of Earth orbit, it might resemble BattleStar Galactica.

    • The Mars-One project is currently the only serious attempt at a TMI profile. The ‘first four’ will be preceeded by years of supply landers and infrastructure placement. I’m happy that someone at least is going to take advantage of the 2018 free return opportunity (only 0.4au) but this will only be a sight-seeing tour. Maybe that will be able to capture some photos of the future colony site and the first supply drops for consumption back here on Earth

  • Jim

    Having a free return makes things a lot easier. Do a tether with the upper-stage and you will have gravity for cheap that can be kept until it arrives back to earth. I would prefer a Bigalow Sundancer or 330 module though.

  • DocSparkle

    So I am thinking based on the size restrictions for food and water, they should be going all Bear Grills by about day 10.

  • Tim

    The human race needs to embrace innovate technology for space travel beyond LEO and the moon. Travel to Mars using Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine technology could accomplish this goal in 40-50 days one way. Another benefit is that hydrogen is the best known radiation shield, so the fuel for the VASIMR engine could also be used to protect the crew from harmful effects. It’s time to move forward and not to lock a team into a spartan envirorment for over 500 days on a mission that does not look very safe.

  • Don

    So why two people? Get an old astronomer used to many nights by himself, plus a telescope, audio books and a whole lot of classical music. Oh, and the space and weight saved by one less body replaced by food, thereby removing any possibility of a Donner trip to Mars.

  • Rob

    Newspace Journal probably knows the mission from the article they have, but I’d wager that it will look similar to Bob Zubrin’s Falcon Heavy based, stripped down Mars Semi-Direct (see in this video at 0:25:00 This solves a lot of problems…radation (mostly), gravity by tethering to the burnt-out upper stage and spinning, psyc. problems could be handled by the shorter time span (I think) and having a lighter Bigelow Aerospace module for extra living space. Only launch the Habitat module and have it fly-by Mars and return to Earth and inspire the next generation. With the one FH launch at ~$100 mill. the mission could be concivably designed and done with existing, or nearly existing technology. I hate to put a price on it, but ~$1 bill would leave ~$900 mill after the launch cost for hard ware and development. Could they raise that if Tito puts in the first ~$200 mill himeself? I think so, and a number of the people involved (Bigelow/SpaceX/Paragon) would REALLY love to see their hard ware send the first people near Mars (imagine the P.R.?). For extra money they may be able to do a test flight in a cycler orbit to and from the Moon for half the time?
    Interestingly, Zubrin’s mission calls for a 2 man crew as well…conincidence?

    • DMK

      I am a bit surprised that no one has yet commented – either positively or negatively – on my suggestion (see above) to help pay for any type of Mars project with public subscriptions. This could be a major source of funding to add to the seed money put up by Dennis Tito. I bet there are a lot of people worldwide who would be willing to contribute money for the ability to “ride along” via the internet – especially if the crew was both male and female. Now don’t get the wrong idea, since ISS commonly has mixed crews and they all enjoy camera-off times. Obviously only a handful of people will ever actually make such a trip, but millions of people could participate to various extents via subscriptions.

      For example, lets consider 4 types of subscriptions similar to classes of airline passengers. 1) “last class”: a contribution of $100 would give you a secure password to ride along via 1 camera inside and 2 cameras outside for limited viewing of what is going on; 2) “business class”: a contribution of $500 would give a secure password to view via multiple cameras and listen-in on what the crew is saying; 3) “first class”: a contribution of $1000 would give a secure password to see and hear all public commo (like the present NASA TV Channel) along with the ability to pass up occasional questions to the crew; 4) “VIP class”: a contribution of $10,000 would give a secure password to listen in on all “loops” up and down just like being on-console at mission control, along with other perks such as being invited to be at the launch and landing sites, and participate in all launch and landing parties, etc.

      I worked a “front-room” console at NASA’s POCC at MSFC for a number of Shuttle-Spacelab missions, and found this experience to be unforgettable. Of course on a long trip to Mars, there will be long periods of relative inactivity and lots of quiet time, but just the fact that a subscriber could watch Earth shrink via a rearward camera, and Mars grow via a forward camera should make for lots of great viewing – rather than just flying endless circles in LEO.

      Of course worthless “celebrities” from around the world probably would dominate VIP class subscriptions, but then they might as well contribute to some useful and historic project for once, and once having contributed they probably would rarely participate since they would be stoned most of the time, and probably lose interest quickly due to their vast technical ignorance.

      BTW, I have ridden centrifuges several times, and worry that spinning a habitation module on a long tether would result in serious vertigo problems any time the astronaut’s head was not aligned with the axis of rotation. It sure as hell made me dizzy any time my nose was not pointed directly toward (or away from) the gravity vector.

      • Rob

        Apparently, if you exceed more than 2-3 rpm, it can become nausiating due to the coriollis forces and the difference between your head and your feet, thats why you would need a long tether to get a descent amount of gravity.
        According to the Atomic Rocket page on this topic:
        “As it turns out, there are limits on the rotation rate. The Coriolis effect can induce nausea. 1 RPM is safe, at 3 RPM most can acclimatize but some cannot (and it takes some time for those who can), at 5 RPM a few can acclimatize but most cannot, and nobody can acclimatize to 10 RPM and above. The only way to increase gravity without increasing the RPMs is to increase[the distance the center of rotation]

      • Aresia

        I agree – public subscription could be big but it needs to be marketed properly. One element in that might be also to be given Mars Bonds in return redeemable through a future, grateful Mars Community. No value would be stated but it is something that one might leave to one’s children. Who knows? It might be the equivalent of a share in Microsoft back in 1978.

  • Winston

    I hate to throw a wet blanket on things but we’re talking about something that humans aren’t designed for. I’ll wait for the details before calling this a suicide mission, but it appears that we’re talking about holding two people in a weightless and tiny space who are subject to high levels of radiation (no magnetosphere protection at all) for the better part of two years.

    • Aresia

      Not as high as people working in the aviation industry.

      Weightlessness is the main problem. But great advances have been made in this area. And there is no reason why there couldn’t be extended test flights, maybe doing figures of eight around Earth and Moon.

  • Uwe

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    Mars One is a not-for-profit organization that will take humanity to Mars in 2023, to establish the foundation of a permanent settlement from which we will prosper, learn, and grow. Before the first crew lands, Mars One will have established a habitable, sustainable settlement designed to receive astronauts every two years. To accomplish this, Mars One has developed a precise, realistic plan based entirely upon existing technologies. It is both economically and logistically feasible, in motion through the integration of existing suppliers and experts in space exploration.
    We invite you to participate in this journey, by sharing our vision with your friends, by supporting our effort and, perhaps, by becoming the next Mars astronaut yourself.

  • Morganism

    Would be smart to leave the Bigelow in orbit around Mars as an emergency and staging station for other missions.

    It is hard enough to do a gravity sling maneuver there with such a thin atmo anyway. Strap a solid engine to it, and leave it there after the second swing past.

    would also be some good science to scout Phobos and Deimos. Those should be the original targets for people anyway.

  • I’d love to see use of VASIMIR or artifical g
    to increase the tech. contribution of the mission…

  • Dylan & Jackie manitoba canada

    Well my wife and I would be happy to volunteer for this mission. This is not a joke. If the parties Involved are interested in us contact this website for our email and we would be happy to be interviewed for this.

    We are healthy fit couple. We would are intelligent and willing to learn any skills needed. We have scuba certifications and many other skills already. Have excellent communication and problem solving skills regarding our relationship which would be required for a cramped long voyage.we would also be willing to preform tests and experiments in flight.
    We hope this makes it to the correct person

    Dylan and Jackie

  • Des

    Jeff, can you share the paper with us?

    • Jeff Foust

      Because of copyright matters and other issues, I cannot share the paper at this time. Hopefully after either Wednesday’s press conference or the paper presentation itself, the paper will be available.

  • Lex

    I’d be ready to go on this trip alone. Guess you have to be an introvert. :)

  • Aresia

    Overall, I think if it is just a flyby then keep it simple. The main object here will be to get humans close enough to record how the planet looks to the human eye and to fire the imagination of people back on Earth. No point in overcomplicating things: just make sure they get back alive.

  • Scott Bass

    Anymore leaks? I think this all hinges on SpaceX involvement …. Certainly the main news I am looking for….. Elons absence from the list to attend the Washington briefing gives me pause…. You would think he would be there if Dragon was commited

  • Stuart

    May I just ask, why has everyone forgotten the Excaliber Almaz station/space craft. Surely combined with an enhanced Dragon capsule and a customised interplanetary “booster” A Mars “flyby” is slightly more feasable.

  • Stuart

    With regards to Mr.Musk’s absence from the delegate list should not come as a surprise. I think it may be because the event on Wednesday is a “launch” to garner support from the wider scientific / space community. Everyone keeps mentioning Space X rockets and capsules, has anyone contacted and directly asked the question if Elon Musk /Space X is involved in any way with this project. If Space X is involved I imagine it will have to be for purely commercial reasons. After all Space X needs to make money to grow and to develop its own projects.

  • Scott Bass

    Stuart, my guess is Elon is quiet for just that reason… Tito and company would be a paying customer and any comments from spaceX would steal the thunder and make it sound like a spaceX endeavor. I do expect some type of feasibility statement from them after the brief tomorrow though

  • Scott Bass

    I Respect all of the new space start ups and I wish them success…. I just feel SpaceX is the only one mature enough at this point to truly add credibility to this mission….a year from now might be different but as of today …. Without a firm commitment by them I become a skeptic almost immediately

  • James

    Well I am excited by this. To go beyond LEO again, to go into deep space is amazing. And people will be interested. And if Space X is involved then it far more likely of being successful. Couldnt they connect up a Bigelow module with an exercise bike in it?

  • JimNobles

    What about the water? They can’t carry enough so it will have to be recycled. The system will have to work for 500 days. If it breaks down there will be no spare parts coming up next cargo run. Has any such system gone that long without breaking down?

  • Scott Bass

    I bet water will play a part in the shielding of the modified dragon… Guessing several launches and a docking before they leave earth

  • Scott Bass

    Space X not part of titos mars plan, leaving the link off because it disappeared earlier but the source is the Wall Street journal

  • Well well well, quite a revelation Scott… Space X not part of Tito’s plans. Is he working with the Russians or dare I say it… Chinese.

    This would certainly overcome “health and safety regulations”.

    Has the cost of the adventure been considered, I ask because Space X profess to be financially competative.

    I wonder if Space X will be brought on board at a later date?

    This really is all “sauce for the goose”.

    Roll on 1pm EST (6pm GMT)for the big announcement.

  • Scott Bass

    Stuart the article says spaceX negotiations imploded a couple of weeks ago and he was talking to Boeing and Lockheed now….starting to shape up as another half baked idea… Would sure love to have heard those negotiations

  • Scott, I hope to live long enough to read Elon Musk’s memoirs to find out what was said although I will keep a watchful eye on his Twitter page.

    I cannot see Boeing or Lockheed chasing this contract for several reasons.

    The first reason being… I fear given our current technological level it’s just too difficult even for aerospace giants!

    • Aresia

      I think Elon Musk has a plan. Once you get the cost of launch down then you can enough hardware up into LEO and on to Mars at the right cost. A lot of supplies can be pre-landed – you don’t need to take them with you.

  • Scott Bass

    I could speculate all day but it is possible that Elon has his own timeline and thinks the flyby is a waste when he could achieve orbit for roughly the same price…. Who knows… But it’s possible he will open up about this because everyone will be asking

  • Scott Bass

    Btw I don’t know the in and outs but if you are going to go in to orbit then I guess the launch window is every two years, I will say though it is a shame the free return trajectory is so far spaced apart because if I were designing a mission I sure would like that as an option in case something went wrong on the way….. That would make 2031 a desirable date for a landing mission IMHO

  • Scott Bass

    I am sad Aresia… Guess we could hope the Wall Street journal is wrong but they generally get it right….the few stories out this morning are not quoting that part.. Either they did not read that deep in to the article or don’t realize the significance of it

  • Scott Bass

    If anyone wants to read the article you can google mercury7 blogspot and I have it there, I don’t think Jeff wants links to news stories/blogs here but you can find it

    • Jeff Foust

      I believe the article that Mr. Bass is referring to is this: “First Space Tourist Sets Sights on Mars”. Because this is a Wall Street Journal article, a subscription may be necessary to read it. (Please do not post links to unauthorized copies that violate the Journal’s copyright.)

      Remember that just because something appears in the Journal (or any other publication, for that matter, including this one!) does not mean that it is correct.

  • I agree Scott Space X will go to Mars when it suits them. I also believe Tito’s proposal will do good actually focusing minds. We have all discussed the water, waste, food, life support, cosmic/solar rays etc issues. They all need to be addressed. Furthermore a propulsion system needs to be perfected.

    A free return mission is to risky now, but given Space X’s growth and ambition possible in the much publicised ten year time span. At the moment Grasshopper and “MCT” (whatever it is) need to be perfected.

    Oh yes we musn’t forget the SLS (is that the Senate Launch System?)!

  • Scott Bass

    Lol… Lets don’t mention sls right now ;)…. Lets just keep our fingers crossed that Tito can pull it off…. Jeff might have to create a hybrid journal and call it newspace politics ;)

  • Scott Bass

    Thanks Jeff, hoping your right… As far as the journal piece, I may be confused how they do things.. Ie public vs subscription, the article appeared open when I read it, regardless we should all know more later today

  • Scott Bass

    Also should note that I do not know the Wall Street journals batting average on space industry news…. I can say though that when they report something apple related they have been almost 100% reliable…. I guess it is all in the sources used

  • […] new organization, Inspiration Mars, to mount a privately-funded crewed Mars flyby mission in 2018: a concept that leaked out last week and being led by Dennis Tito, the engineer-turned-businessman who is best known for being the first […]

  • Aresia


    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.

  • Claus

    SpaceX is discussing a “RED” mission with NASA to develop a landing of the Dragon capsule on the surface of Mars, containing various experiments for producing fuels and human survival necessary resource’s. Read somewhere that could be performed at 500 mill US – why not combine this with Tito’s plan ?.

    That would be mean a manned mission flyby around Mars, with a – simulated – manned landing on the Mars surface. the “only” difference from a true manned landing on Mars would be an orbit- and de-orbit burn, and an ascent burn from Mars. Wouldn’t call these burns a walk in the park, but its mostly about adding fuel, and so this combined mission would be VERY close to the real thing.

  • Excellent idea Claus, also it would mean control of the descent by the lander would be handled by the Inspiration Mars ship avoiding a time delay.

    I must admit Dennis Tito appeared a little nervous but by the end was on good form. The presentation panel did a nice job, all in all they seemed to raise the same concerns we all had on this site. Nice picture of “Coke 1, The real thing” as I’m sure it will soon be known.I don’t think anyone suffered “death by Power Point” either.

    As I’m English I suppose I’m excluded as a foreigner. As a member of the human race I’ll cheer you Americans on and wish you all the best in your space endeavours.

  • Scott Bass

    They have my 100% support…

  • Aresia

    Well, I am sure we all wish it was a landing but I didn’t realise they were going to be so close: 100 miles. Fantastic! I think that will really help build the mood back on the home planet for a real landing.

    It’s a rather damning indictment of NASA of course, sadly. They’ve had 50 years. You can now get there and back for one billion. Their budget is something like 25 billion a year.

    This project has received a lot of publicity worldwide – the sort of publicity sponsors die for. Probably the next step should be to put out tenders for sponsors in various sectors e.g. soft drinks, beer, vodka, automobiles and also for TV/film rights etc This would be for 5 year contracts. I think these would be of great interest to a range of firms.

  • Scott Bass

    I thought about once the crew is chosen they will likely become instant heroes and role models…. They can also be sponsored for endorsements just like any sports figure, NASCAR driver etc, it will be interesting and they will have to choose very wisely and probably should have a backup crew to train simultaneously. Also just want to note that I feel a little duped by the WallStreet Journal…. It has been stated many times today that no negotiations have taken place with SpaceX…. Feel bad passing that info along so forcefully

    • Aresia

      Yes, the individuals need to be tied into the project as well so most of their personal sponsorship income gets back into the project. They will become super-rich as a result of this mission. I think if they retained 20% of the income during the mission period that would be fair. They would continue to earn money off the back of the mission to the end of their lives.

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