A private mission to send explorers to Mars has seen a "ton" of applicants - despite almost insurmountable technical and financial challenges.
"We've already had a ton of applications," Jane Poynter, president of the Paragon Space Development Corp and part of the Inspiration Mars Foundation, told Space.com.
But among the many problems the mission is facing, one is more crucial than others - they're not even taking applications yet.
"Some of them are kind of interesting," she said. "But please don't send your applications just yet. We're not announcing that we're taking applications!"
The Inspiration Mars project would see two people - possibly a married couple - spend 501 days inside a caravan-sized craft on a journey to the Red Planet and back, potentially launching as soon as January 2018.
While the pioneering mission would not land its crew on Mars, it would place the craft in orbit around the planet for a unique view of another world. The Foundation said:
We created our foundation to inspire Americans to take advantage of this unique window of opportunity to push the envelope of human experience, while reaching out to our youth to expand their views of their own futures in space exploration.ADVERTISEMENT
Revitalizing interest among our students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education is a vital part of our overall mission. Our goal is to provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, using state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station.
The short timescale for the mission launch is due to a rare alignment between our two planets that dramatically shortens the time needed for a return journey, along with a reduced level of solar flares which could prove deadly in deep space. The conditions won't be as good until 2031, leading to the announcement earlier this year by millionaire Dennis Tito.
Needless to say, it's not quite that simple.
The first problem is funding. The mission only has enough to last for the first two years, after which it will rely on private donations. Second is the technical challenge. The plan is to use pre-existing commercial spacecraft, but the current options - such as the SpaceX Dragon - are untested with regard to manned missions.
New systems for medical care, protection from radiation, diet and life support equipment would need to be developed. Other issues - such as how a craft travelling at 8 miles/second can return to Earth safely - are also significant.
Finally there's the crew - who need to be psychologically capable of the long, possibly fatal journey.
But as far as the Foundation is concerned, there won't be a shortage of applicants.
"You really can select people that will do well in this type of environment," Poynter told Space.com.
"All the work to date has shown that this is possible," added Taber MacCallum, the mission's chief technical officer.