If Dennis Tito has his way, when NASA launches a stripped-down version of the robotic Mars Curiosity rover toward the red planet in 2020, a middle-aged married couple with good mechanical skills and “resilient” personalities will be offering first-hand commentary to reporters at Cape Canaveral on what the planet looks like from 100 mi. up.
Even if the Inspiration Mars Foundation that Tito is bankrolling for two years from his own deep pockets never gets its human Mars-flyby mission off the ground, the world's first space tourist believes it will have given the U.S. space endeavor a much-needed boost. Benefits will accrue via technical data for future attempts, possible medical breakthroughs needed for deep-space travel and, yes, inspiration.
“You reach an age where you say 'OK, it's put up or shut up,'” says Tito, 72. “You've been successful. Now, what are you going to leave behind? What are you going to leave behind to your kids [and] to society? I have five grandsons. Should I leave them all my money, or should I do something like this.”