Tito Now Wants NASA Funding for Inspiration Mars – Here's NASA's Response

Tito Now Wants NASA Funding for Inspiration Mars – Here's NASA's Response

Dennis Tito made headlines earlier this year by announcing plans to send a married couple to Mars in 2018 as a private sector initiative, but at a congressional hearing Wednesday he revealed a change in plans.  Now he wants the effort to be a public-private partnership, with NASA as his partner and the largest contributor to the effort.

Tito is a millionaire who was the first “space tourist” to visit the international Space Station.  He paid a reported $20 million to Russia for a the one-week trip, which created quite a stir at the time although several other wealthy individuals have made similar trips since then.

In February, he captured headlines again when he announced at the National Press Club his plan, Inspiration Mars, to send a married couple on a 501 day slingshot trajectory around Mars in 2018.  Earth and Mars are properly aligned every 26 months for such trips and some of those opportunities are better than others in terms of how much energy is needed to make the trip.  That affects trip time and how much mass can be sent.   The year 2018 is one of the very best opportunities that come around only every 15 years.

However, getting such a mission ready in such a short period of time evoked considerable skepticism.  Not only are there safety questions since no solution has been found to protect humans from radiation exposure on such trips, but a very large rocket and other systems are needed.   In his testimony Wednesday and a new report describing his plan, Tito concedes that he needs NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) now under development.  SLS is currently scheduled to make its first test launch in 2017.   He wants NASA to contribute an SLS launch and in the new report describes the effort as largely a NASA mission: “The Mars mission of 2018-2019 is the kind of hard, daring, and high-yield quest for which NASA was made.”

He reportedly calculates that this is a $1 billion mission, with NASA putting in $700 million and the private/philanthropic sector raising the other $300 million.  NASA made clear in a statement yesterday that while it supports public-private partnerships and is happy to talk to Inspiration Mars, it “is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them.”  NASA’s statement, provided by David Weaver, Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications, is reproduced below.

NASA is facilitating the success of the U.S. commercial space industry, opening up new markets and supporting the creation of good-paying American jobs — all on a path to send humans to Mars. The agency is developing its most powerful rocket to date, getting ready for a test flight of a crew capsule that will take astronauts farther into space than ever before and planning an ambitious mission to capture, redirect and explore an asteroid. We have a robust Mars exploration program with important science missions, such as Curiosity and MAVEN, to help us better understand the Red Planet. Every one of these activities is laying the groundwork for future human missions.

 At the same time, the American commercial space industry is on the rise, with multiple firms competing to explore space and create economic growth opportunities here on Earth. Two American companies have started cargo resupply operations to the International Space Station, and NASA has issued a ground-breaking request for proposals to certify private U.S. companies to fly astronauts to the space station.

NASA has had conversations with Inspiration Mars to learn about their efforts and will continue discussions with them to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA’s human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans. Inspiration Mars’ proposed schedule is a significant challenge due to life support systems, space radiation response, habitats, and the human psychology of being in a small spacecraft for over 500 days. The agency is willing to share technical and programmatic expertise with Inspiration Mars, but is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them. However, we remain open to further collaboration as their proposal and plans for a later mission develop.

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