Billionaire Dennis Tito has some big ideas about sending people to Mars. The former-engineer-turned-space-traveler unveiled plans on Wednesday to fly two astronauts to the red planet as early as 2017.
The mission, known as “Inspiration Mars”, would travel within 100 miles of the planet’s surface before returning to Earth, taking advantage of a rare alignment of the two planets that would reduce the time and fuel needed to complete the 800-million-mile journey. One of the main challenges of the mission will be keeping the crew healthy, physically and psychologically, for the 501 days they’re in space, the Washington Post reports.
Initially, Tito said private rockets could be used to minimize the need to involve NASA in the project. But after completing a feasibility study, he has now sought the agency’s help in the form of a $700 million investment and the loan of a jumbo rocket, set to be built by 2017. Private donors will also have to cough up $300 million for the mission, but Tito believes the cost is worth it to beat Russia and China to the feat.
“We firmly believe the Inspiration Mars is our last chance to be first in space and stay first in space,” he said.
NASA has not been as enthusiastic about the project, saying it could give “technical and programmatic expertise” but is unable to commit to sharing expenses at this stage.