Now we’re getting details on the 2018 Mars Mission hinted at last week, and we have confirmation that the Inspiration Mars Foundation is planning a free-return, fly-by visit to Mars.
That’s right: n0 landing. No boots on the ground. No exploration. 288 days in interplanetary space, only to come within 100 miles of the surface and then spend another 273 days on the return trip. I’m sure there are plenty of others with the same initial reaction I had: what a waste.
But that’s wrong. It didn’t take much thought, even before reading over the mission profile, to realize this is a brilliant idea. First of all, the simplicity of this mission means it will be inexpensive: in the $1 billion range. That takes it out of the government-only realm, meaning it can be privately funded. Factor in the possibility of advertising and broadcast rights, and paying for it becomes the easy part.
And what’s the payoff? More than you might expect. In one near-term mission we address, head-on, some of the biggest challenges (real and imagined), of sending humans to Mars: radiation exposure, microgravity, psychological effects, long-term life support, etc.
Better yet, this adventure can be a much-needed reawakening, reminding us that we are explorers. Hopefully 2018 will just be the appetizer, with a full course soon to follow.