Washington Post reflects on the future of space exploration. Rather than the will of a great nation, today it takes a determined billionaire to send a man to Mars:
Billionaire Dennis Tito, tired of being told that we can’t send humans to Mars just yet, on Wednesday revealed his scheme for launching two astronauts to the red planet as early as December 2017.
Dubbed “Inspiration Mars,” the flyby mission would exploit a rare alignment of Earth and Mars that minimizes the time and the fuel it would take to get to Mars and back home again. The astronauts would come within 100 miles of the Martian surface before being slung back to Earth.
“It would be a voyage of around 800 million miles around the sun in 501 days,” Tito testified Wednesday at a hearing of the House subcommittee on space. “No longer is a Mars flyby mission just one more theoretical idea. It can be done. Not in a matter of decades, but in a few years.”
Tito is a former engineer who made a fortune in investment management and, in 2001, became the first person to pay his way into space, buying a seat on a Russian rocket. Now he’s pitching Inspiration Mars as a national priority for the United States.
Of course, he still needs NASA to help out…
Tito’s plan would essentially borrow the SLS for the Mars mission, if NASA agreed. And NASA would have to pay for a lot of this. Tito described Inspiration Mars as a “philanthropic partnership with government.” He said private donors would probably give about $300 million for the mission, and the government would need to provide about $700 million — in addition to the money NASA is already spending, under current programs, on rocket and spacecraft development.