The long-held dream of sending humans to Mars may have moved closer to becoming reality – the Inspiration Mars Foundation announced today its plans to send two American astronauts to the Red Planet in 2018.
Most estimates have stated that the earliest a manned mission could be done, by NASA, is the early 2030s. So how could such an ambitious mission be attempted by 2018, only five years from now?
The answer is in the type of mission being designed. Yes, it would go to Mars, but it would be significantly simpler in concept than those currently on NASA’s drawing boards. It would utilize already-existing technology and would be a flyby mission instead of a landing. The concept is simple: two astronauts, one man and one woman, would make the journey in a modified capsule, pass within 160 kilometres (100 miles) of Mars’ surface and then return to Earth. The entire trip would take 501 days, with a target launch date of January 5, 2018. After launch, an inflatable habitat module would be deployed, which would then be detached upon return to Earth, before re-entry.
As Dennis Tito, chairman of IMF states, “When nations boldly follow opportunities, rooted in curiosity and guided by technological innovation, they grow, prosper, learn and lead. And this is what makes a nation great.”
He continues, “Human exploration of space is a critical catalyst for our future growth and prosperity. 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 education.”
A flyby mission, similar to Apollo 8 at the moon, would greatly reduce the risks, costs, equipment and supplies which would be necessary for an actual landing and lengthy stay on Mars.
Why 2018? At that time, the orbital alignment between Earth and Mars would allow such a voyage to be undertaken in the least possible amount of time. The next such window of opportunity wouldn’t occur until 2031, so it would be prudent to take advantage of the earlier opportunity if at all possible.
Whether this ambitious mission actually happens remains to be seen, but as Tito summarizes:
“The mission will help create public awareness, enthusiasm and momentum for a long-term commitment and vision for space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit… all the way to Mars. Clearly, there are risks associated with the mission, as is true of every space exploration mission. But these are exactly the kinds of risks that America should be willing to take in order
to advance our knowledge, experience and position as a world leader. We believe the risks and challenges we have identified are well within the scope of our collective experience and can be overcome to achieve a safe and successful mission.”
More information about IMF is available here.
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