Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars project has attracted some community feedback.
Space cynics might call this Monday-morning quarterbacking by individuals not involved with the project, but that would be unfair. This is not after-the-fact analysis but constructive criticism that could be incorporated into the project, if Tito and his staff so choose. So, we’ll call it “Friday afternoon quarterbacking.”
The most interesting suggestion Wingo makes involves using a gravity assist (or “slingshot maneuver”) from Venus. This maneuver would not only reduce the round-trip transit time by 26 days, it would allow the crew to observe and study two planets rather one.
The downside is not the next planetary alignment for the Earth-Venus-Mars mission occurs in 2017, about 10 months earlier than the 2018 launch opportunity Tito is targeting. The 2018 date is already an ambitious, so it isn’t too surprising that Inspiration Mars isn’t enthusiastic about the idea.
Still, the Earth-Venus-Mars mission is intriguing. In fact, it’s one of the mission scenarios G. Harry Stine proposed for the Pilgrim Observer space station. The preference for one mission over another partly reflects underlying goals and mindsets. If you believe the ultimate destination for the US space program is Mars, as NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden has said, other destinations such as Venus might be seen as a distraction. Space itself, then, is not something to explore but something to get through as quickly as possible on our way to Mars. This is a view that has been frequently articulated by Mars Society founder Bob Zubrin, among others.
A contrary view is that space itself is the ultimate destination: our destination lies Out There, not tied to a single planet. We will settle Mars, and the Moon, and many other places, but we will also rove among the planets, and ultimately, among the stars. Ultimately, in fact, space itself may prove to be a better location for space settlement than any planetary surface, as proposed by Professor Gerard O’Neill.
We happen to favor the second view, so we’re intrigued by Wingo’s Earth-Venus-Mars variation. At the same time, however, we recognize that Mars (and even the Moon) may be a planet to far at the present time. The most important task to work on at the present time is developing affordable, reliable, frequent access to space: both suborbital and orbital. Once we have achieved that, we will be halfway to anywhere. Still, it is Dennis Tito’s money that is backing this project, not ours. He will do with it what he wills, and we wish him luck.
Another “Friday afternoon” discussion has been taking place on the aRocket discussion list. This one concerns the possibility of adding an unmanned sample-return module to the Inspiration Mars mission. This module would land on Mars and be teleoperated by the Inspiration Mars crew. Following its fairly short mission on Mars, it would rendezvous with the Inspiration Mars capsule for return to Earth.
This idea would eliminate much of the expensive Earth-return hardware associated with traditional sample-return mission concepts. It would still add significantly to the cost and complexity of the Inspiration Mars mission, however, so it’s unlikely to happen unless a major government space agency (most likely NASA) decides to work with Inspiration Mars to make it happen. It’s unlikely that a government agency could navigate the funding and project-management waters for such a mission in time for the 2018 launch window, however.