NASA is unwilling to share the costs of a Mars Flyby so Dennis Tito must look to Russia or China

Dennis Tito is trying to put together a Mars flyby mission. He would need to launch in late 2017 to take advantage of a rare alignment of the planets that would greatly shorten the trip, or maybe in 2021, the second best option. He has raised $300 million (mostly his own money) and has asked the US congress to provide the heavy launch rocket for about $700 million in cost. NASA has rejected the proposal.

NASA’s response – 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.

Given Russia’s clear recognition of the value and prestige of accomplishments in human space exploration, and their long-time interest in exploring Mars, my personal belief is that in all likelihood the Energia super-heavy rocket revival announcement signals Russian intent to fly this mission in 2021,” Tito stated.

“Their heavy lift rocket, along with their other designs for modules and the Soyuz, can fly this mission with modest upgrades to their systems.”
Another option would be using Chinese capabilities, he added, because the country — reportedly developing a large space station of its own — is likely “contemplating this opportunity to be the first on Mars.” Tito said he is informing Congress of his plans to go elsewhere as a “civic duty”, and that he wants to give NASA the first shot.

The issue is the sheer amount of gear required for a human mission. The crew will need a module that will keep them alive for the duration of the trip, including all their food, radiation shielding, and a separate pod to protect them during the high-speed re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Launching all this along with the crew is impossible with existing spacecraft, the report found.

Even if you break the mission into several separate launches, getting all the gear into space would take at least three launches with planned commercial vehicles, such as the privately built SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, which has yet to fly. Then you would need a final launch to deliver the crew. Once in orbit, the modules would need to carry out sensitive docking operations to link up, plus refuelling, all within the space of about a week.

Mars, Earth and Venus will be aligned in 2021 such that the spacecraft could launch towards Venus and use its gravity to slingshot back out towards Mars. The crew would go within about 800 kilometres of the surface of Venus, and the trip would take only about 80 days more.

“That gives us more time to build the system, and would pass by two planets, Mars and Venus, rather than one,” Tito said in a press conference on 20 November. It would also put the astronauts on a gentler re-entry trajectory, reducing the velocity at which they would come racing back to Earth.

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