'Inspiration Mars' Details First Private Mission To Circle Red Planet

A private, non-profit organisation has published what is claims is a comprehensive plan to send two humans to fly past Mars in 2017.

Inspiration Mars aims to win support from the US government and Nasa for the historic mission, which - if it happened - would occur at least a decade ahead of the space agency's schedule.

Led by the millionaire Dennis Tito, the group said that the mission is technically feasible if it can secure "perhaps several hundred million dollars in new federal spending".

Above: concept view of the IM craft

"We now call on our nation's leaders to seize this singular opportunity to begin human exploration of the solar system and affirm America's leadership throughout the world," it said in the report.

The attempt - dubbed the "Mission For America" - would launch a married and pioneering couple to Mars between Christmas Day 2017 and January 5 2018. After roughly 250 days in space the craft would circle the Red Planet once, coming within 100 miles of the surface before returning to Earth in May 2019.

The mission relies on a favourable alignment between our two worlds, which would make the journey much shorter than it would be otherwise.

But Inspiration Mars knows that it needs the total support of Nasa to get the mission off the ground - literally. It said the new Space Launch System rocket would be required to send the main crew module and craft into space, with the astronauts arriving separately in an Orion capsule which would also return them to Earth.

Many technical challenges remain, however, including how to safely re-enter Earth's orbit while travelling at more than 50,000 km/hour.

But the report says that it hopes officials will approach those challenges with the open mind and confidence of Nasa's engineers in the early space race, and agree to support the mission.

"Our "Mission for America" aligns perfectly with our nation's emerging space priorities and programs, and will contribute valuable research to accelerate the next generation of systems and their missions," it said.