Wanted: Married Couple For Mission To Mars

Inspiration Mars plans to send a couple to the red planet in 2018Last week we brought you preliminary information on a proposed mission to Mars that is being spearheaded by Dennis Tito, the American multi-millionaire who became the world’s first space-tourist back in 2001. At the time, Tito’s plans were a bit nebulous but he promised more information was coming soon. On Wednesday of this week, he shared more details, including the possibility of sending a husband and wife team on a flyby of the red planet.

Tito’s new non-profit organization, Inspiration Mars, was launched with the expressed purpose of mounting a manned mission to Earth’s neighbor in just five years time. Tito believes that we have a unique window of opportunity early in 2018 when the Earth and Mars will be aligned with one another, making the flight path relatively straightforward and simple. He is aiming to launch his currently unknown spacecraft on January 5 of that year on what is expected to be a 501-day journey.

To combat the loneliness that could come from a prolonged space voyage of this type, Tito is proposing that the crew consist of two members – a man and a woman. He went on to say that it would be preferable if they were a husband and wife team to prevent issues of incompatibility along the way. After all, the two people selected to go will be sharing small, cramped quarters for well over a year. It would make sense that they have a solid relationship and know each other well before they depart.While it would be easy to simply dismiss Tito’s plans as being too ambitious to succeed, he is taking an approach that may allow him to achieve his goals. Unlike other commercial space programs that are looking to turn their ventures into a profitable business, Tito says this is a one-shot deal. He plans to use technology that either already exists or is close to completion to build his rocket and spacecraft, and he plans to fund much of it with his own money. As the mission gets closer to becoming a reality, however, he expects to solicit sponsorships and other funding as well.

As noted above, this journey to Mars will just be a fly by. The spacecraft would pass within 100 miles of the planet before beginning the long journey back to Earth, although it wouldn’t enter orbit at all – nor would it touch down on the surface. The crew would still get one heck of a view as they pass by, however, becoming the first humans to visit an alien planet in the process.

That is about the extent of what we know on this project at the moment. Inspiration Mars isn’t expected to announce the process for selecting a crew for at least six months or more. But they plan to move ahead with their plans to select a rocket and space capsule that can accomplish the mission.

In the meantime, I’m looking for a girl who wouldn’t mind taking a honeymoon to Mars.

[Photo Credit: Inspiration Mars]

Private Firm Announces Commercial Flights To The Moon For 2020

Commercial space flights to the moon could begin by 2020A new start-up calling itself The Golden Spike Company has announced plans to commence commercial space flights to the moon beginning in 2020. But before you reach for your credit card and start booking your first flight, there are a few things you should know. The business is primarily aimed at nations – not private individuals – and it comes with the hefty price tag of $1.5 billion.

Golden Spike says that they have already had a number of inquiries from several interested countries and one wealthy individual. They believe there is a market for the program, even if motivations are more centered on prestige rather than scientific research. The $1.5 billion cost puts it out of the realm of possibility even for many nations, but considering that the price is for a round-trip flight for two, perhaps we’ll see interested parties actually splitting the costs.

Of course, with the current state of commercial space flight efforts, it would be easy to dismiss Golden Spike’s claims of providing commercial travel to the moon in just seven years time. But the company is made up of spaceflight experts and former NASA employees, which does give the effort some level of legitimacy. Still, I wouldn’t hold them too closely to that 2020 date. They have an awful lot of research and development to conduct before they ever get this venture off the ground.

[Photo Credit: NASA]

Commercial Space Travel Set Back But Not Discouraged

commercial space travelCommercial space travel, well on its way to replacing traditional space exploration, took a step back Saturday, aborting a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Just a little step back though – the launch is set to try again early Tuesday after swapping out a faulty part.

SpaceX scrubbed Saturday’s mission less than a second before liftoff after high temperatures were detected in one of the rocket’s engines.

After Tuesday’s re-launch, SpaceX will fly its Dragon capsule to the ISS to test sensors and propulsion systems, both of which have never before operated in space. If all systems are go, the unmanned capsule will practice docking at the ISS.

Saturday’s scrubbed launch is a good example of why America’s space program is headed in this “commercial” direction. Hours after the scrub, SpaceX had the solution to the problem in place and had moved on to planning for Tuesday’s re-launch. Run the old NASA way, detailed systems engineering, computer simulations and time-consuming analysis would have taken much longer and cost much more.

NASA, fully supportive of SpaceX to the tune of $2 billion, is excited and prepared.

“We’re ready to support when SpaceX is ready to go,” Alan Lindenmoyer, Manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, said in a press conference Saturday.

The new era in space exploration is coming; it’s just been slightly delayed.

SpaceX Launch to the International Space Station Fails

Flickr photo by IronRodArt – Royce Bair (NightScapes on Thursdays)

NASA funds commercial space travel

Space shuttle Endeavour is ready to fly it’s 25th and final mission on April 29th. That brings us one step closer to the end of the U.S. space program as we know it and one step closer to the future of space travel. In preparation for that future NASA recently awarded $millions to several private contractors for the construction of space taxi’s able to fly to the International Space Station after the shuttles have been retired.

Called the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA’s goal in this second round of grants is “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created.” the space agency said in a press release.

This week, NASA awarded between $22 million and $92.3 million to four different companies for work on commercial crew space transportation system concepts to include the design and development of elements of their systems.

“We’re committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “These agreements are significant milestones in NASA’s plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low-Earth orbit, so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration.”

The lions share, $92 million, will go to Boeing for development of their front-runner CST-100 spacecraft that uses existing materials and technology that is safe and affordable. The CST-100 will carry up to seven people or a combination of people and cargo and is compatible with a variety of existing expendable launch vehicles. Another company, SpaceX will work on that concept too, their version called Dragon.

Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada works on a winged and piloted spacecraft called the Dream Chaser Orbital System. This one will launch on an Atlas V rocket, and will have on-board propulsion utilizing their hybrid rocket motor technology.

Finally, Blue Origin, the Washington-based firm founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is working on a reusable suborbital ship known as New Shepard. This one blasts off from their launch site in Texas where it will take-off vertically and accelerate for about two and a half minutes before shutting off its rocket engines and coasting into space. In space, the Crew Capsule will separate from the PM and the two will reenter and land separately for re-use.

NASA photo