It may have lacked the drama and the exact setting of President Kennedy’s call for America to go to the Moon in 1961, but the city, Washington D.C. a place now much better known for what doesn’t get done, than what does, was the scene today for a new challenge issued to America to set out on bold new space endeavor. Speaking at the National Press Club at an event moderated by well known space journalist Miles O’Brian, former aerospace engineer and world’s first space tourist Dennis Tito formally introduced the Inspiration Mars Foundation and its Apollo-esqe endeavor, a 501 day circumnavigation of Mars to be launched in January 2018.
Although some of the basics had been widely reported already, the details revealed at the press conference were significant. In the first place, the trip will be conducted by a crew of two, male and female, and both will be American. Given that the subtitle of the proposal is “A Mission to Inspire America,” this was hardly a surprise, although the home grown flavor did seem to disturb some of the journalists present.
Fortunately for whomever is chosen, the mission architecture, which is not set in stone, is expected to include both a crew capsule and a supplementary area, most likely inflatable in nature, making for a still cramped, but least conceivable living arrangement. No EVA’s are anticipated (or desired) and all systems would be accessible and repairable from within the confines of the ship.
Also, and in contrast to earlier reports, neither the launch vehicle nor the spacecraft supplier is fixed. Although the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and Dragon capsule were used as baselines in feasibility studies, it is possible that the company could have no involvement at all. Even if the expectation is that SpaceX may be the ultimate vendor, basing the entire effort on a vehicle which has yet to be developed and demonstrated would be impractical decision for what appears to be a very practical man.
And it is all about one man, at least for the next two years. In what may be the most signficant detail released today, Tito will provide personal funding for the first two years of the project, allowing it progress unhindered until the point major hardware acquisition takes place. Unlike so may other private space efforts, this one will not have to fight for money until it is mature enough that the giggle factor is erased or minimized.
Much, much more to come later, but for the moment a re-assuring thought. Robert Heinlein gave us exactly one
B.B. D.D. Harriman, but in an unforseen development, this nation appears to have them in abundance.