“If you have a billion or two dollars, it’s technically feasible,” said Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society and a longtime proponent of colonizing that planet. “My main point of skepticism is not technical, it’s, ‘Do these guys have a billion dollars?’ ”
They apparently do not. Tito did not crack the Forbes 500 billionaires list, and on Wednesday he will announce the nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation to begin fundraising for this “philanthropic” flight. The foundation is in talks with the National Geographic Society and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to bring the mission into classrooms and otherwise broadcast it.
A timeline of the Mars rover Curiosity through its two-year mission on Mars.
Tito began his career as a rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plotting trajectories of NASA’s first robotic missions to Mars and Venus. He then made a fortune as one of the first “quants,” who apply hard math to soft markets. He has skirted skeptics and broken the Earth-bound rules of spaceflight before. In 2001, Tito paid Russia a reported $20 million to vacation at the international space station. NASA refused to sign off on the trip until four days before launch.
In 2010, President Obama set NASA’s sights on a human Mars landing — a much more difficult mission than the one Tito plans — in the 2030s. But that mission is largely notional and unfunded.
At closest approach, Tito’s crew won’t even peep Mars’s volcanoes and valleys below. Mars itself will block their view as they slingshot around the far side — the dark side — of the planet.
Risks include deep-space radiation, missing a small “keyhole” in space near Mars and shooting out to infinity and vaporizing upon reentry. But a private venture can afford bigger risks than a taxpayer-funded NASA mission, said Roger Launius, a historian at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “They don’t need permission from anybody for an interplanetary trip.”
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon and author of the upcoming book “Mission to Mars,” said: “I’ve talked to Dennis, and I’ve strongly encouraged him. The purpose is to inspire, to say we’re going to do something and then we do it.”
NASA’s support for tracking the Mars ship and communicating with its crew is crucial, Aldrin said.
He noted the mission would return to Earth in May 2019 — just in time for the 50th anniversary of his Apollo 11 moonwalk.