The head of a planned 2018 flyby of Mars said Wednesday that it's time for humans to "take the first step" toward inhabiting Mars.
Dennis Tito, a multimillionaire and former astronaut, has financed the first two years of the mission, which seeks two people to become the first to come within 100 miles of the Red Planet. Wednesday, at the Humans to Mars summit in Washington, D.C., he said he's sick of waiting for someone else to go there. As he took the stage Wednesday, he pointed to a poster that said "Humans to Mars by 2030," NASA's timeline for a Mars mission, and started talking.
"I can't wait until 2030. That's too long of a time to maintain enthusiasm," he said. "I think if we're going to fly to Mars, we have to do it with a short sprint to show we can do it and then we can take the time necessary to do the whole enchilada, which is boots on the ground."
A sprint, indeed.
Tito's Inspiration Mars mission calls for two people—a married couple, he's suggested—to launch from Earth on Jan. 5, 2018 for a 501 day mission that will orbit Mars. If the 2018 mission is missed, the next launch window wouldn't be until 2031. The date was chosen because Mars is at its closest point to Earth when launched on that day.
NASA has said the earliest it will fly to Mars is during the 2030s, when it believes it'll have the technology to land on the planet. At the same conference Monday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said while the agency is "supportive of anyone who wants to foster the development of the capability to puts humans in a Martian environment," it'll be a tough endeavor.
"The plan we have in place, the Mars strategy as supported by the president and funded, will have humans with NASA in the Martian environment by the mid 2030s," he said.
Other private entities, most famously Mars One, have planned trips to the planet. But with Tito funding the first two years of development and his plan to simply orbit Mars, not land on it, his might be the most realistic. The team has already done a feasibility study, and the majority of its technology already exists or is under development.
"We have a good handle on how we'll execute this mission from an engineering standpoint," Tito said.
He'll still have to find more money—the mission could cost up to $2 billion. Tito says he will look into crowdsourcing some of the rest, Kickstarter style, and corporate donations are rolling in (Inspiration Mars is set up as a nonprofit).
If he doesn't succeed, he's worried no one will.
"We're a migrating species … it's time for us to start thinking about where we go out to next," he said. "The next habitable place in this universe that we know of is Mars … it may take thousands of years [to colonize it], but we will do it. The way we're going, we're never going to do it. It's time to take the first step."