Dennis Tito, a millionaire investment guru, became the first paying passenger to visit the International Space Station in 2001. Now, its said that he is planning a privately funded, 501-day mission to Mars in 2018.
The full details of the trip won't be made available until a news conference to be held next week in Washington D.C. Word about the venture was let out in a media advisory which describes a "Mission for America" that would capitalize on a favorable orbital opportunity to launch a round-trip mission to Mars in January 2018.
The advisory also invites press to a news conference to be held on February 27 at 1pm at the National Press Club. This invitation was sent out by the Inspiration Mars Foundation, which is describe as a "newly founded nonprofit organization led by American space traveler and entrepreneur Dennis Tito."
The advisory also teases:
"This 'Mission for America' will generate new knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration," the advisory said. "It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again, in doing the hard things that make our nation great, while inspiring youth through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and motivation."
A number of reports about the venture suggest that the mission in 2018 would involve a human crew, however the media advisory doesn't specify whether astronauts would be flown. Given the short period of time leading up to the mission, it would seem more likely that the so-called "Mission for America" would involve animals or plants on board and would be some kind of precursor for human flight.
Tito, a former rocket engineer, made his fortunes as the founder of Wilshire Associations, a multibillion-dollar investment firm based out of California. Tito made history in 2001 when he paid $20 million for a ride on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS.
In the 12 years since his spaceflight, Tito has taken a low public profile in the private sector spaceflight industry, and little is known about the Inspiration Mars Foundation.