COMMENTARY | Dennis Tito recently suggested that all it would take for his Inspiration Mars mission to get off the ground would be $700 million from NASA and use of the heavy lift Space Launch System. NASA has basically said thanks but no thanks.
There is a backup to the proposed 2018 flyby to Mars mission which envisions a 2021 launch that would feature flybys of both Venus and Mars. That would add 88 days to the just over 500 day mission and would involve more radiation hazards to the two person crew. But Tito has another backup in mind as well. He might go to Russia and/or China for help.
Russia is developing its own heavy lift rocket on par with the Space Launch System, though how serious the project is might be open to question. But if Tito, who has friends in Russia thanks to his own 2001 space trip, might provide that country with an opportunity to show up the Americans and get a little revenge for losing the race to the moon in the 1960s. China is also a possibility for a state sponsor for Inspiration Mars.
One can just imagine the black eye the United States would get if a pair of Russians or a pair of Chinese turned out to be the first people to conduct an interplanetary voyage because Obama’s NASA balked at spending money that is still considered chump change where manned space projects are concerned. One might get the idea that the United States was no longer the leader in space exploration.
Still, despite certain disadvantages, the 2021 mission might be more doable because it provides an extra three or so years to develop the hardware and find the money to pay for it. Plus one gets a bonus of visiting two planets, at least their vicinity, in one epic voyage. But perhaps that will be a decision for the next president and next NASA administrator to take. The current ones seem to be uninterested in taking advantage of a unique opportunity.