Two brave Americans may get the opportunity soon to be the first to attempt a piloted flyby of the planet Mars. Would you go?
You’ve almost certainly heard about this around the same time I did, but it took a few days — and a brief comment from a friend — for it to really register with me:
Dennis Tito, the millionaire who made history in 2001 by becoming the world’s first space tourist by spending eight days on the International Space Station, has announced a project that he feels will capture the imagination of the world, and re-ignite America’s pioneering spirit. The venture is to send “[t]wo professional crew members – one man, one woman” on a 501 day flight to within a scant 100 miles of the planet Mars.
In the press release from his Inspiration Mars Foundation, Tito is quoted:
“Human exploration of space is a critical catalyst for our future growth and prosperity,” [Tito] added. “This is ‘A Mission for America’ that will generate knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration. It will encourage and embolden all Americans to believe, again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue their destiny through STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education.”
Audacious? Damned straight it’s audacious!
Though officially still looking at options for the technology, a study was conducted utilizing a SpaceX Falcon series rocket and one or more uprated SpaceX Dragon capsules. (The technical but relatively short “Feasibility Analysis for a Manned Mars Free-Return Mission in 2018” [PDF link] is available from the foundation’s site).
The ideal crew, according to Taber MacCallum, member of Tito’s development team, would be a married couple past childbearing years (due to the risk of exposure to unhealthy levels of solar radiation), in excellent health, and with a high degree of technical aptitude in order to handle repairs.
Being aware of all this, it still hadn’t become real to me until I learned my co-author of Red Moon David S. Michaels (well, all right, I’m his co-author) told me that he wanted to apply for the trip, but his wife has an issue with motion sickness that precluded her even thinking about it.
The very idea of going to Mars (or really, “circum-areion space,” but still, close enough to practically touch it), is a dream that for well over a decade I held very, very dear.
Mars — an Adolescent Romance
The Mars of my childhood was a romanticized Mars, a Mars popularized by turn of the century astronomer Percival Lowell. Lowell became an ardent proponent of the idea that a Martian feature observed by some astronomers of the time, the “canals” of Mars, was evidence of intelligence life, in the form of a vast network of irrigation canals, which one could easily imagine having been engineered to sustain a desert world. Though the existence of these features was disputed even at the time and eventually fell out of favor in the astronomical community, the damage had been done. Popular culture was infected with a fascination with Mars as an apparent abode of intelligent life well into the 20th Century.