Mars mission put off 3 years
Inspiration Mars, the Mars mission project to send a pair of astronauts on a 582 day-long voyage to fly by Mars and Venus, has been postponed for 3 years. The new target date is November 22, 2021. Mars and Earth will reportedly be closely aligned in 2021 so this trip will also be more economical because it will require less fuel.
Dennis Tito, a financier and former NASA engineer who began the Inspiration Mars Foundation last year stated “through several months of exhaustive reviews with NASA centers, industry and academia to validate an architecture for a Mars flyby in 2018, it became clear that the most practical and beneficial approach for America’s space program would be to use the NASA Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle for a similar window of opportunity (in 2021). ”
The Mars mission is considered a flyby mission because the spacecraft will not orbit Venus or Mars. It will pass Venus in April 2021 and Mars before October. The capsule will then return home. Although said to be privately funded the mission will still require the assistance of NASA in constructing the rocket required to boost the capsule into space.
The capsule will also require various supplies including food, water and other essentials for what is an almost 19 month voyage. They must also prepare for any potentially unforeseen events that could alter or extend the trip.
Doug Cooke, Inspiration Mars advisor and former advisor to NASA, testified to the Congressional committee overseeing NASA’s budget that this flyby Mars mission will give the pair of astronauts a view of Venus and Mars akin to the view that Americans get of the moon. In fact, he stated that they will be able to observe Mars in this fashion for approximately 40 hours.
Unfortunately, the Mars mission will probably not actually be totally covered by private funds. The SLS heavy-lift rocket, which the mission requires from NASA, would have to be specifically built for the mission. This would require “hundreds of millions” of taxpayer dollars. No one from NASA was asked to address the congressional committee . Nevertheless, there is already some governmental support for the project.
Republican Rep. Lamar Smith who is the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee which oversees NASA believes this Mars mission would provide an excellent opportunity to test the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket and Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle which is already being built for NASA’s circa 2030 Mars mission.
He considers the project a source of future inspiration. He said: “We are not the only nation interested in extending humanity’s reach into the solar system. One of the three major space-faring nations will reach Mars first. The question is whether it will be the U.S. or China or Russia.”
Former NASA administrator and current head of Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, Scott Pace, noted that while this could be a beneficial trip the Obama administration has yet to express any interest in this Mars mission. Others opine on the risk involved. Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas commented: “I doubt that a flyby of Mars will ultimately be considered to be an appropriate first shakedown of a flight for a new crewed spacecraft, given the risk involved.”
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)