On Wednesday, a group called Inspiration Mars announced plans to send two people to fly by Mars and return to earth in 2018-2019. This public-private partnership would send humans exponentially farther from home than we have ever been. One leader called it “a philanthropic effort to be done for America” rather than for profit.
I love this plan. NASA doesn’t have the cash to attempt something like this, so the private sector is stepping in with a bold plan. It’s old-school science with a sense of adventure and risk-tasking where people try something partly to prove it can be done. Despite the technical challenges, the plan seems to be feasible and relatively low-cost. The spacecraft should reach Mars during a relatively close approach to earth, do a simpler fly-by of the planet instead of a much riskier and more complex landing, and inspire millions of people who are disappointed by the end of the space shuttle program. Much of the necessary technology already exists. The rest can be developed over the next few years.
Are Jenny and I applying for the trip? As tempting as it sounds, no, for three reasons:
- Let’s be honest: there’s a decent chance these two might not make it home. As this article noted, if the trajectory is off, the spacecraft could slam into Mars, careen off toward the outer planets by mistake, or re-enter earth’s atmosphere too steeply and burn up. We’re talking 30 million miles away. If we didn’t have kids, I’d be much more likely to consider it. But I can’t risk orphaning the boys for the sake of something like this.
- I couldn’t stand to be away from the boys for over 16 months. For comparison, Jonathan was born 37 months ago. So much can happen in that amount of time. When we got home, they’d be such different little people.
- We probably aren’t what they’re looking for, anyway…too young (apparently they want older people due to the radiation risk), not the right skillset (space background with mechanical skills), etc. But I must admit that blogging from space would be pretty darn cool.
So I’m afraid we’ll cheer from the ground instead. (You’re welcome, Mom!) However, I’m still curious about many of the details particularly the experience for the astronauts. Several questions come to mind, such as:
- How will they pass the time without going crazy? I assume printed materials are out of the question due to weight and room. Are iPads or Kindles acceptable? Will the spacecraft have a built-in entertainment system of some sort?
- How well will communication work between the crew and Mission Control? How long is the delay? Is video communication possible or only audio? How much monitoring will Mission Control be capable of?
- On a related note, how much privacy will the crew have? Assuming the crew is a married couple, will they be able to have a semi-normal sex life or private conversations without Big Brother intruding?
- How much training will they get, and what will their capabilities be, regarding repairs, medical care, spacecraft maneuvering, mental health, and other issues they might encounter?
- What kind of exercise capability will they have to keep their muscles and bones strong?
- What will they eat?
If their plan comes together, I hope to share it with the boys. I just told Brenden a story about a boy named Brenden (of course!) who got into a spaceship and flew to Mars. Turns out that story might not be quite so crazy after all.