Billionaire Dennis Tito to send two 'civilians' to Mars

Fancy a trip to Mars? This could be your lucky day. 'We have not sent humans beyond the moon in more than 40 years,' says Tito, who became the world's first 'space tourist' in 2001. 'I think it's time to put an end to that lapse.'

by Rebecca Burn-Callander

The eccentric billionaire financier has launched a project to send two civilians on 'an historic journey' to Mars by 2018. These two lucky people, ideally a 'married couple', will take part in a 'return fly-by' of the Red Planet, where the spacecraft loops around the planet, rather than attempting to land. The whole mission is expected to last 500 days.

Tito announced his plans for the project at a press conference in Washington today. The search is now on to find the couple - ideally a middle-aged pair who have already had children, as the prolongued exposure to radiation could affect their fertility.

The mission, which will cost between $1-$2bn, will be part funded by Tito's corporation Inspiration Mars, and by selling the television rights to the mission - think of it as a kind of 'The Truman Show' set in space. Inspiration Mars will also and flog the data collected during the mission to Nasa.

The couple can expect breath-taking views, the journey of a lifetime, dreadful dehydrated food, and (probably) countless squabbles as a result of spending a year and a half together in a 14ft x 12 ft Dragon space craft.

Luckily for Tito, there's no rush to found the ideal pair. The mission has been scheduled for 5 January, 2018, in order to take advantage of an alignment in the planets that occurs once every 15 years. No doubt the TV company that buys the rights to the footage will have a few demands in the meanwhile: the couple will have to be attractive for starters (you can bet your bottom dollar that 'sex in space' will receieve record views the world over).

Tito has decided to launch the mission now because he is worried he won't be around for the first manned mission to Mars, which has been scheduled for the mid 2030s by the US government.

What is he hoping to get out of watching the experiment take place? Simple. He wants to see 'how humans behave when they look out and see this pale blue dot that they can barely differentiate from a star.' And we'll all hear them scream...

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