NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of the red planet Mars when it was just 55 million miles (88 million kilometers) away on December 17, 2007. Mars will be at its brightest on December 24, 2007 as it aligns directly opposite of the sun, and will not be as visible for another nine years. This color image was assembled from a series of exposures taken within 36 hours of the Mars closest approach with Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. (UPI Photo/NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team) | License Photo
The first space tourists traveling to Mars could very well be a middle aged married couple, if millionaire and Inspiration Mars Foundation entrepreneur Dennis Tito has his way.
And since Tito will be bankrolling the trip--a Mars-shot attempt planned for 2018--he'll almost certainly get it.
At a press conference in in Washington Wednesday, Tito officially announced plans for the trip, a relatively short 501-day journey that would take advantage of a rare planetary alignment to slingshot around the Red Planet and return to earth.
He said he plans to choose from the rockets and space capsules already on the market to carry two passengers--one man, one woman, preferably married and past child-bearing age--on their pioneering journey.
"When you're out that far and the Earth is a tiny, blue pinpoint, you're going to need someone you can hug," Tito told Space.com. "What better solution to the psychological problems you're going to encounter with that isolation?"
A number of qualifying couples are already putting themselves forward for consideration.
"We'll certainly throw our hat in the ring," said Taber MacCallum, and his wife Jane Poynter. MacCallum, a member of the Mars Inspiration development team, and Poynter were crew members in the two-year Biosphere 2 experiment and co-founders of the Paragon Space Development Corp, which specializes in spacecraft life-support systems.
The trip would likely expose the travelers to radiation levels beyond what NASA considers safe, MacCallum told NBC's Cosmic Log, hence the recommendation that the couple be beyond child-bearing age.
"We're definitely pushing boundaries," MacCallum said. "It's definitely going to be hard and challenging. But we can rely on elegance and simplicity.