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Dennis Tito, the world’s first space tourist, plans to send a married couple to Mars in 2018. The married couple will leave Earth in January, orbit Mars at an altitude of 100 miles (160km) in August, and then return home. The entire journey will last a total of 501 days; the longest continuous time ever spent in space. Spending so long in space will result in the astronauts being bombarded by a lot of solar radiation, increasing their risk of developing cancer by 3% — but Tito’s CTO has a plan: creating a radiation shield out of the astronauts’ poop.
While you would expect such an audacious plan to be hatched by NASA, or perhaps SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk, this mission to Mars will be carried out by the Inspiration Mars Foundation — a non-profit charity set up by Tito. “This is not a commercial mission, ” Tito says. “Let me guarantee you, I will come out to be a lot poorer as a result of this mission. But my grandchildren will come out to be a lot wealthier through the inspiration that this will give them.”
At this stage of the mission, exact plans are fairly hard to come by, but we do know that Tito will fund the first two years himself — after which it is hoped that philanthropic donations, television rights, and advertising possibilities will pay for the project. Inspiration Mars’ CTO has shared the route that the spacecraft will take to reach Mars and return (pictured below), and that the current plan is to use a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the astronauts into space. The Inspiration Mars mission will use what’s known as a free-return trajectory to Mars — a special trajectory that is only available twice every 15 years, where the gravitational fields from the planets perfectly align for a quick and cheap flight to Mars and back.
As for why Inspiration Mars is looking for a married couple, there are two reasons: First, the two astronauts will have to spend 501 days in a 17-cubic-meter “inflatable habitat, ” which roughly equates to a 2.6-meter (8.5ft) cube (pictured top). In this tiny, claustrophobic space they will sit, sleep, eat, and poop for more than 16 months. Using a married couple, and vetting them beforehand to make sure that they’re a happy couple, is one way of ensuring that they actually make it to Mars and back without committing the first case of interplanetary murder.
The second reason is because Tito specifically wants to send one man and one woman, to represent all of humanity and to equally inspire both sexes. If the foundation’s name wasn’t enough of a hint, Inspiration Mars’ slogan is “send two people, take everyone.” As a corollary, the scientific objectives of the mission mostly revolve around human endurance and psychology, so that we have a better understanding of how humans will cope with the long spaceflights that the colonization of other planets will require. Perhaps one of the experiments will involve the viability of procreation in a zero-gravity environment, too.
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