Going to Space?

 2018 to Mars???

I see in the news that the world’s first space tourist, Dennis Tito (a guy with a lot of money and an urge to push the business of space exploration) wants to send a mission to Mars on a quickie flyby as early as the year 2018.

Five years from now.


This almost sounds like a case of life imitating art, except in Geoffrey Landis’s wonderful book Mars Crossing, actual human explorers DO land on Mars only to find themselves having to trek across the planet for survival. It’s a bit of a drama, but many of the details in the story are scientifically right on target and this could make for good reading for anyone who buys into Dennis Tito’s idea. I’ve read that his Inspiration Mars Foundation has not said there would actually BE any humans on board the ship, so I kind of wonder what the point of the mission would be? However, others have reported that there WILL be crew members. I guess we’ll all find out on Wednesday, February 27th, when the foundation holds its media event to present its ideas to the rest of us.

I suspect the crew will be young guys. I’d love to go. Heck, I’d love to just get to the Moon, but that’s looking like a fainter prospect every day. The lunar and Mars explorers are probably still in high school, maybe in college. It’ll take a while to get things going, but once they do, maybe there’ll be some hope for a trip for those of us who have supported, dreamed, and paid taxes all these years with the idea that maybe someday, somehow, all that support would translate into a chance of a lifetime to visit another world as a tourist.

This Mars trip has me intrigued because I’ve been writing about space travel and exploration for years, wondering when the exploration of the other worlds will branch out.  Now we have somebody who’s making the effort to get us to Mars — finally!  However, I think it needs to be a touchdown mission.  And, perhaps it will be — we’ll find out next Wednesday. But, the ferment on the Web is growing. As others have asked, why go all the way to Mars just to fly by? That’s like going to Florida, driving right past Disney World and taking a few pictures before heading back to the airport for the flight home.  And, if Mr. Tito DOES send people, he will be sending them into some pretty dangerous territory, as many are pointing out.

Back in the “Case for Mars” conference days (before there was a book of the same name), we all got together and discussed the dangers and snags inherent in a trip to Mars. There are plenty of them: radiation, psychological hangups, physical deterioration (astronauts’ bones are damaged by long stays in space, for example).  Making a habitable spacecraft that crew members can survive in for the YEARS it will take for the mission to complete is a worthy challenge. Figuring out how they will eat, sleep, drink, explore… it’s a complex task. These hurdles will be overcome, but I imagine the first ones to head to Mars (whether through Tito’s efforts or a mission sent by a space agency) will be our “canaries in the coal mine” for extended space travel. They’ll be risking their lives.  They’ll be heroes, and the exploration of Mars will be worth the risks they take to get there and come back home.

So, keep a lookout in the news on the 27th to see how it’s all going to play out.  Maybe after all this time, we’re finally going to send people to Mars!

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