In less than five years, a husband and wife could be on their way toward Mars in an audacious but bare-bones private mission that would slingshot them around the Red Planet, according to a plan outlined today by a financial tycoon and his team. The voyage would be a cosmic no-frills flight that would take the husband-and-wife astronauts as close as 100 miles to Mars, but it would also mean being cooped up for 16 months in a cramped space capsule about half the size of an RV.
The private, nonprofit project, called Inspiration Mars, will get initial money from multimillionaire 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. Why a couple for the flight? "This is very symbolic and we really need it to represent humanity with a man and a woman," says one project member. (Read more Mars stories.)