A Martian trip of a lifetime
In the 1990 movie “Total Recall,” vacations to Mars were commonplace in the future.
Now, a very rich man named Dennis Tito, an investment consultant, wants to launch a married couple into space for about 16 months so they can circle Mars, the great red planet, and then come back to terra firma.
None of the costs would be borne by NASA or the federal government. Taxpayers may not be involved at all in the $1 billion project. It may all be privately funded.
It sounds like a bad way to test a marriage. But it also sounds like an innovative way for the private sector, which is growing by leaps and bounds in the space industry, to beat NASA, the Russians and the Chinese to Mars.
Granted, NASA has been to Mars, and is there right now. The government is using robots, though, and while that’s very cool, there is something about manned space flight — manned expeditions of any type — that appeals to the human imagination as an ultimate test of the boundaries of earthly existence.
Sending a man and woman to circle Mars — they wouldn’t land — would not be a scientific mission. It would be the greatest tourist trip yet.
This $1 billion trip to Mars — this second honeymoon — would be the first manned trip of its kind, to the great red planet. The 501-day flight, which could begin in 2018, would test the mettle of the private-sector space industry. It could also launch the space-tourism industry into a new orbit.
Or it could end very badly.
That risk didn’t stop other American explorers, inventors, innovators, reformers and entrepreneurs. It should not stop the private space industry.
The federal government is in debt deeply, and it has cancelled the space shuttle program. It is unclear when the manned space program of NASA will re-commence.
In the meantime, private companies such as SpaceX are making unmanned deliveries to the International Space Station, including Friday’s launch of the Dragon capsule. The private sector is launching into new territory and manned space flight, for tourism or any other “mission,” is the biggest challenge yet.
Space itself still holds vast promise. Science and tourism are the first steps. The next steps will likely be the mining of valuable metals. That way, space flight will actually pay for itself, with assets returned from space.
For now, Tito and others are hoping a wealthy and stable couple can make the long voyage to Mars and back, a trip sure to make honeymoon planners in Niagara Falls nervous. A new age of tourism will arrive if Tito launches his plan in 2018.
— The Jacksonville Daily News
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