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Dennis Tito, space tourist, may travel to Mars in 2018

Man’s first trip to Mars may happen much sooner than previously thought.

According to various reports, the non-profit organization Inspiration Mars Foundation will announce plans to fly the first humans to Mars in 2018.

The Inspiration Mars Foundation, founded by millionaire Dennis Tito — who is considered the world’s first space tourist — is widely considered the most ambitious private space company to date.  Tito’s organization is now planning to send a human to Earth’s closet planetary neighbor within the next five years. A press conference set for Feb. 27 is expected to announce the trip along with more details about its 501-day mission set for launch in January 2018.

“This ‘Mission for America’ will generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration,” said officials from the Inspiration Mars Foundation. “It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again, in doing the hard things that make our nations great, while inspiring youth through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and motivation.”

This is not the first time Tito has made headlines for his desire to travel the universe. In 2001 he became the first space tourist to visit the International Space Station. Tito reportedly spent $20 million to stay aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for eight days, visiting astronauts from the U.S. and Russia.

Tito, along with a host of other scientists and business owners, will take part in a February 27 news conference. The speakers will include the CEO and president of the Paragon Space Development Corp. and a space-medicine expert from the Baylor College of Medicine. While it has not been confirmed that the Inspiration Mars Foundation is planning a trip to the Red Planet, some reports say it is very likely given the line-up of speakers scheduled from the conference.

Fueling the mission to Mars rumors, NewSpace Journal reports Tito will appear at an aerospace conference in Montana on March 3 to discuss how manned missions to Mars could be accomplished by 202.  According to the NewSpace Journal, Tito’s paper includes many details about the potential Mars mission.

Tito’s paper reportedly says the mission will be a crewed free-return Mars mission that would fly by Mars, but not go into orbit around the planet or land on it. This 501-day mission would launch in January 2018, using a modified SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket,” the NewSpace Journal reported. The journal also said the paper mentioned that only two people could go on the mission because of the environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) technology available today.

The paper says the planned mission to Mars would be cheaper than previous estimates of a trip to the Red Planet. It also says the trip will be privately financed, but did not release an estimated cost of the mission.

Right now, one of the most pressing issues is not how to get the astronauts to Mars, but how to the keep them healthy during their journey. Experts say long missions in space cause physiological and psychological problems in astronauts. Currently, space agencies avoid this by only allowing them to be in space for six months. In order to carry out a 501-day mission, more research would need to be done on the effect the trip would have on the astronauts.

The planned announcement comes as a number of private organizations have announced plans to travel to Mars within the next twenty years. A number of companies have put forth plans that include preliminary research missions that will rely on rovers to explore potential landing sites and collect information on surface conditions.