Dennis Tito’s trail balloon for NASA to devote about $700 million to help his foundation, Inspiration Mars, send two astronauts around Mars in 2018 has landed with a thud. An official response from NASA’s Public Affairs Office included this curt dismissal:
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.
The NASA contribution would include the launch of the unmanned Mars vehicle aboard the space agency’s new Space Launch System. The person crew would be launched separately aboard a private spacecraft.
Tito estimated the mission would cost about $1 billion, with $300 coming from private contributions and $700 million from the U.S. space agency.
If NASA is not interested in being involved, Tito said there are other options available for a backup launch date in 2021:
“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.”
A third 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.
Russia recently announced it was embarking on the development of a heavy-lift booster to rival the capabilities of the American SLS rocket. The project could involve reviving the Energia booster developed to launch the Soviet space shuttle in the 1980s. The launch vehicle flew twice before it was retired.
U.S. export laws would make it very difficult for American technology to be exported to these nations to support such a mission.