Tycoon proposes to send married couple around Mars

WASHINGTON — In less than five years, a married couple could be on their way toward Mars in an audacious but bare-bones private mission that would slingshot them around the red planet, under a plan announced Wednesday by a financial tycoon and his team.

The voyage to Mars and back would be a cosmic no-frills flight that would take the husband-and-wife astronauts as close as 100 miles to the planet, but it would also mean being cooped up for 16 months in a cramped space capsule half the size of an RV.

The private, nonprofit project, called Inspiration Mars, will get initial money from multimillionaire investment consultant Dennis Tito, the first space tourist. The team would not say how much the overall flight would cost, but outsiders put it at more than $1 billion.

NASA will not be involved. Instead, the project’s backers intend to use a private rocket and space capsule and some kind of habitat that might be inflatable, employing an austere design that could take people to Mars for a fraction of what it would cost NASA to do with robots, officials said.

The crew members will have no lander to go down to the planet, and no spacesuits to go out for any spacewalk. They will have minimal food and clothing, and their urine will be recycled into drinking water.

“This is not going to be an easy mission,” chief technical officer and potential crew member Taber MacCallum said in an interview. “We called it the Lewis and Clark trip to Mars.”

It also involves a huge risk, more than a government agency like NASA would normally permit, officials concede.

“It’s a risk well worth taking,” MacCallum said. He said it harkens back to the days when people took risks when it was meaningful, and he said it could be an inspiration, especially to students.

As for why a couple will make the flight, “this is very symbolic and we really need it to represent humanity with a man and a woman,” MacCallum said.

He said if it is a man and a woman on such a long, close-quarters voyage, it makes sense for them to be married so that they can give each other the emotional support that will probably need when they look out the window and see Earth get smaller and more distant: “If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.”

The project aims to capitalize on the once-in-a-generation close approach of the two planets’ orbits. The timeline for the 501-day mission is set out in a technical paper to be presented next month at a scientific meeting. It calls for a launch on Jan. 5, 2018, a Mars flyby on Aug. 20, 2018, and a return to Earth on May 21, 2019.

In a statement, NASA spokesman David Steitz said the venture validates President Barack Obama’s decision to rely more on private sector ingenuity to explore space, and is “a testament to the audacity of America’s commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America’s citizen-explorers.”

He said “NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually beneficial activities.”

Stanford University professor Scott Hubbard, NASA’s former Mars mission chief, said that the team’s technical paper is “long on inspiration, short on technical details. What is there is correct.”

“It’s sort of an audacious thing to say, `I’m going to fly by Mars in five years,”’ said MacCallum, who was part of a team that lived for two years in Biosphere 2, a sort of giant terrarium on Earth that was supposed to replicate a mission on another planet.

More in Local News

Young woman missing from Mukilteo found safe

She called her parents and told them she was at a museum in Seattle.

Mom and brother turn in suspect in Stanwood robberies

The man is suspected of robbing the same gas station twice, and apologizing to the clerk afterward.

Derrick “Wiz” Crawford, 22, is a suspect in the homicide of his roommate. (Edmonds Police Department)
Roommate suspected in Edmonds killing found hiding in closet

Police had been searching for him for 10 days before locating him at a house in Everett.

Video shows man suspected of attacking a woman in Edmonds

The man allegedly threw her on the ground, then ran away after the she began kicking and screaming.

Navy to put filter in Coupeville’s contaminated water system

Chemicals from firefighting foam was found in the town’s drinking water.

Officials to test sanity of suspect in Everett crime spree

He allegedly tried to rob and clobber a transit worker, then fled and struggled with police.

Katharine Graham, then CEO and chairwoman of the board of The Washington Post Co., looks over a copy of The Daily Herald with Larry Hanson, then The Herald’s publisher, during her visit to Everett on Sept. 20, 1984. The Washington Post Co. owned The Herald from 1978 until 2013. (Herald archives)
Everett’s brush with Katharine Graham, leader of ‘The Post’

Retired Herald publisher Larry Hanson recalls The Washington Post publisher’s visits.

Former Monroe cop loses appeal on sex crimes conviction

Once a highly respected officer, he was found guilty of secretly videotaping his kids’ babysitter.

Families seek to change wrongful death law

A bill would allow or parents or siblings who wish to pursue a suit for an unmarried, childless adult.

Most Read