Dennis Tito’s Prepared Remarks Before Congress on Human Mars Mission

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Dennis_TitoTestimony of Dennis Tito
Executive Director of Inspiration Mars Foundation
Hearing on Commercial Space
Subcommittee on Space
November 20, 2013

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. I can’t think of a better way to begin today’s discussion on public-private ventures in space than to propose one.

At the Inspiration Mars Foundation, we have designed the architecture for a mission carrying two astronauts to the far side of Mars and back. It would be a voyage around the sun of more than 808 million miles in 501 days. We propose to do this in collaboration with NASA, as a partner in a NASA mission, in the name of America, and for the good of humanity. The endeavor is not motivated by business desires, but to inspire Americans in a bold adventure in space that reinvigorates US space exploration. In fact, the capabilities developed through private funding will belong to NASA for this and future missions.

This partnership is a new model for a space mission. It is not the model of traditional contracts or subsidies for vehicle developments, although those models are imbedded in the NASA programs to be leveraged for this unique mission. It is a philanthropic partnership with government to augment resources and achieve even greater goals than is possible otherwise. Philanthropy has historically benefitted society beyond what governments can afford or justify. What better use is there for private funding than to challenge the imaginations of people all over the world by providing the spark that invigorates the space program to further human destiny, to learn more and improve our civilization. Just as exciting times in the space program have motivated young people to study math, science and engineering in the past, benefitting all parts of U. S. industry, this mission will surely provide that benefit.

No longer is a Mars flyby mission just one more theoretical big idea. It can be done – not in a matter of decades, but in a few years. Moreover, the mission might just show the way for a new model for joint effort and financing. It would attract significant private funding, while enabling NASA to do what it does best, and confirm the United States as the unquestioned leader in space.

Credit: Inspiration Mars

Credit: Inspiration Mars

The work of this subcommittee has helped to prepare the way with the 2010 authorization. That gave NASA the Space Launch System, the Orion program, and new commercial capabilities. We propose to combine all these elements, as we have explained in an Architecture Study Report released this week.

We can accomplish the flyby within a set launch schedule; using rockets, systems, and hardware already in testing; and meeting an established objective that is a part of U. S. Space policy for sending people to explore Mars. It’s currently expected sometime in the 2030’s. But if the technology, the rockets, and the systems are all virtually there, why not move this mission into the here and now?

There is a compelling reason to do just that – in a word, opportunity. Every 15 years or so, there is a rare planetary alignment that makes a Mars journey relatively less complex, relying on the gravitational forces of Mars, the Sun, and Earth. An American spacecraft would have to be on its way in the first days of 2018. Otherwise, we’re looking at another 15 years before that perfect alignment occurs again.

If we need a Plan B, there is a mission 88 days longer that flies by Venus before going by Mars, a unique trajectory that could be flown in 2021. However by then, another country – almost surely China – will have seen our missed opportunity, and taken the lead for themselves.

Credit: Inspiration Mars

Credit: Inspiration Mars

If I may offer a frank word of caution to this subcommittee: The United States will carry out a Mars flyby mission, or we will watch as others do it – leaving us to applaud their skill and their daring. If America is ever going to do a flyby of Mars – a manned mission to another world – then 2018 is our last chance to be first.

This week Americans are thinking of President John F. Kennedy with special feeling, among other reasons for the fire he lit under the Apollo program to make America first to the moon and six years later, there they were.

In 2019, it will be 50 years since those first footprints were left in lunar dust. On that anniversary, we will have to ask how we have used the time, where we have journeyed since, why our best-known spacecraft are all in museums.

We can reply that in this half-century, human space flight never went farther than where the Eagle landed; that we had plans and ideas to journey beyond the Moon, but we never did and we never tried.

Or, if Congress and the president will give NASA this great mission, we will be able to say in 2019 that two of our countrymen have just traveled the distance of Mars and back – the longest journey ever made – and that they were the first.

I thank the members of the subcommittee for your kind attention, and I welcome your questions.

Answers to specific questions:

(1) Your work on the Inspiration Mars project and the promise of public and private sector partnerships to advance space exploration;

Philanthropic support for science is a long standing tradition, patrons of the arts and sciences predate Columbus. Philanthropic support for space exploration is a part of that tradition and I think it is due in part to a growing recognition that space exploration plays a critical role in America’s future economic competitiveness.

On the occasion of being invited to provide this testimony the Inspiration Mars Foundation is releasing the Architecture Study Report, demonstrating the technical feasibility of the free return Mars flyby mission with two crew members. A summary of the Architecture Study Report is provided with this written testimony.

The mission takes advantage of a rare planetary alignment occurring at the end of 2017. One interesting result of the study is a clear demonstration of the need for the Space Launch System (SLS) as well as advanced reentry capsule technology. As shown in the attached data sheet, the architecture calls for launching the unmanned spacecraft into low Earth orbit using SLS. The crew is subsequently delivered to the spacecraft loitering in low Earth orbit by one of the commercial crew transportation providers. With the crew on board and spacecraft checkout complete, the commercial crew vehicle undocks and the SLS with Dual Use Upper Stage performs the burn sending the spacecraft and crew on their way to Mars and back. A summary of the report has also been provided to the committee, the full report can be provided as well.

A Plan B, if we need one, is a mission longer by 88 days that flies by Venus before going by Mars, a unique trajectory that could be flown in 2021. The downside is that by then, another country – almost surely China – will have seen our missed opportunity, and taken the lead for themselves.

(2) The proper government role in regulating and fost ering growth in the commercial space sector;

The proper government role in fostering growth in the commercial space sector begins with moving the entire industry forward by having NASA do the really hard deep space exploration missions for which there is no business model. This cutting edge role for government is the catalyst for the private sector to follow behind.

Possibly the most important regulatory issue that needs to be addressed is permanently controlling liability exposure for the emerging commercial suborbital space tourism industry.

(3) How the private capital market has responded to shrinking government budgets, and how this has impacted the commercial space sector; and

The commercial space sector covers a broad range of products and services however one way to think about it to look at sectors in which the government is the principal enabling customer, and those sectors in which the market demand does not require the government. At risk investments in which the government is the prospective customer appear to require government subsidies to the investment, whereas purely commercial markets do not, that reality speaks for itself.

(4) Your thoughts on H.R. 3038, the Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining (SOARS) Act.

In general regulatory streamlining of launch licensing is beneficial; however I have not looked into this bill and the issues surrounding it enough to give an opinion.

  • Nickolai

    Wow, great speech. I hope this idea gains some traction.

  • FOARP

    Hmmm . . the need to include a “Plan B” here shows he’s no longer confident of making the 2018 fly-by. Thing is, the “Plan B” actually looks pretty good, since it involves a fly-by of Venus as well as Mars, essentially making it a “twofer”. Since manned landings on Venus are essentially impossible given the hellish conditions on the Venusian surface, this is also likely to be a record that won’t be improved on for a very long time, whilst a Mars fly-by can be improved on by landing there.