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2018 mission to Mars has big hopes, and big risks

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The Inspiration Mars Foundation wants to send humans to visit the red planet by 2018, and a new report from Wired highlights the myriad of risks and challenges that the organization must solve with financing and engineering. Some of these challenges include traditional space risks like radiation, muscle and bone deterioration, and psychological issues like depression. But the project's backers and partners are optimistic that success is a possibility; Jane Poynter, president of the Paragon Space Development Corporation, said that "this entire thing is possible because it's actually a very simple mission. We're not trying to land, we're going to fly by and we're using extant technologies that NASA and the space industry have been developing for years."

"It's actually a very simple mission."

However, while some technologies may already exist to help propel the project, details provided by Wired indicate that the journey won't be quite like the one traditional astronauts have experienced before. For instance, Paragon estimates the mission would involve a 10-ton spacecraft mostly filled with mechanical systems and supplies; as Wired notes, that means two people would have to live in an area "barely bigger than a parking space" for 501 days. An initial feasibility study is said to have excluded considerations for privacy, separate sleeping quarters, or showers. It's easy to imagine the serious difficulties such conditions would present even for willing human beings with perfect health.

The mission also faces logistical and financial challenges that could preclude it from launching on-time. (And timeliness is essential — if the deadline is missed the mission won't be possible again until 2031 due to the positions of Earth and Mars.) Wired reports that there's no launch vehicle yet that can carry the heavy craft into space; the project will depend on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to be made on time for a cost-effective solution. And while the project is said to cost less than NASA's $2.5 billion Curiosity rover mission, the project's founder has only committed to funding the first two years of mission development and will require the help of other funders.

The Inspiration Mars Foundation mission, spearheaded by American entrepreneur and space tourist Dennis Tito, joins several other recently announced private space ventures, including companies aiming for asteroid mining and a reality TV show of a colony on Mars. The mission is intended to "generate new knowledge, experience, and momentum for the next generation of space exploration. It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again."