For an excruciating four decades now, Americans and the human race as a whole have not ventured past Low Earth Orbit. NASA has, of course, accomplished 135 manned space shuttle flights. We have had a permanent human presence in orbit on the International Space Station since 2001. Still, with the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, Americans lost the ability to launch manned missions from U.S. spaceports and with it, a crucial stepping stone for venturing out into the solar system.
When it comes to manned Mars exploration, NASA has a vague mid-2030s timeline for an initial human mission to the Red Planet. Many space exploration enthusiasts find that not only disappointing but totally unacceptable. I was a little kid the last time humans walked on the moon. I don't want to wait another 20 years for a manned mission to Mars.
Fortunately, I'm not the only one. Dennis Tito feels exactly the same way. Having garnered fame by becoming the first space tourist, he is now spearheading Inspiration Mars: A 501-day, 2-person Martian fly-by mission scheduled to depart Earth on January 5, 2018.
Concept of the Inspiration Mars Fly-By Spacecraft
The launch date takes advantage of a close Earth-Mars planetary alignment that would make the journey particulary energy-efficient. SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is the proposed launch vehicle.
Yes, the Falcon Heavy still remains to be tested. The Inspiration Mars mission still needs to be funded and there has been no word on crew selection other than the proposal for a married couple. A whole range of challenges will need to be met to make the launch deadline. The project is complex, dangerous for the crew and there is no guarantee for success.
Inspiration Mars is, however, a grand plan fueled by a bold vision. It is exactly what we need right now - as a nation, as a planet. Humanity has a destiny among the stars. Our generation has the means, courage and technology to become historic trailblazers. The U.S. government has declined to take a leadership position, and so individuals like Dennis Tito and Elon Musk are stepping into the void to jumpstart our human future in space. This is a really good thing. It is also something that Americans do very well. This is what we take pride in ~ it's what we do: To boldly go where no one has gone before.
Because it is there.
And we want to learn more.