Private Manned Mars Mission Planned for 2018 – Realistic?

Mars

Project Inspiration Mars Plans Flyby Mission in 2018

A private manned mission to Mars was announced this week called Inspiration Mars. On their web site they state “Inspiration Mars Foundation believes in the exploration of space as a catalyst for growth, national prosperity, knowledge and global leadership. History has shown that strong nations reap these benefits when they boldly follow a path rooted in curiosity and guided by technological innovation.” …. “NASA and America’s space program have been a critical part of inspiring our nation and people everywhere to reach for their dreams and dare to invent their future. The Inspiration Mars Foundation is committed to moving America farther and faster toward our destiny as the world leaders in technical innovation, science, exploration and discovery.”

They are planning a 501 day mission sending a husband and wife to Mars.  The mission will not land but will fly by Mars at an altitude of 100 miles. The planned launch date is Jan. 5, 2018. This exceptionally quick, free-return orbit opportunity occurs twice every 15 years. After 2018, the next opportunity won’t occur again until 2031.

Is this realistic?

The fact that they are not going to land on Mars significantly simplifies the mission. Challenging items such as the need to plan how to land safely, take care of the travelers once they land, create a Mars habitat, and building a second launch vehicle to return them from the surface of Mars back to Earth do not need to be addressed. The simplicity of the free return trajectory mission will definitely reduce the risk, but there are still many hurdles that need to be overcome. The radiation encountered during the trip, food, water, waste, the psychological implications of isolation, and the vehicle itself to mention a few. NASA has not yet fully developed the technology to execute a mission of this scope, and neither has the Inspiration Mars project. The project states “Investments in human space exploration technologies and operations by NASA and the space industry are converging in time to make such a mission achievable”. In other words they are counting on the new technologies that will be developed between then and now to make the mission succeed. This is not such a far out plan if you just remember the mission to the moon. In the early 1960 we did not have the technology that got us to the moon by the end of that decade.

What may be less than realistic is the expectation that they can meet this goal by 2018. Sending man, and womankind to Mars is indeed truly inspirational. This project is well funded, has partnered with NASA and others to reach their goal. The exact technologies to execute this mission such as the launch vehicle, crew capsule, ground control systems etc. have not been announced. As these things come together the ability of the mission to succeed will be better know. At this stage it appears to be a well organized private space mission. The timeline is aggressive to put it mildly, but when you have a group of intelligent  inspired people amazing things can happen. We will keep a close eye on this mission and wish them the best. Who knows….maybe they will pull it off.

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.