Space tourist Dennis Tito plans mission to Mars, manned by a man and woman (sex in space!)

The world's first commercial space traveler, Dennis Tito, is today launching "Inspiration Mars," a space tourism project which involves a 501-day flight for two astronauts to do a "flyby" past Mars, then loop back to Earth. The multimillionaire's Mars project would "set plenty of precedents on the final frontier," writes NBC's science editor Alan Boyle, the most intriguing of which may be "the astronauts that are to be sent: one man and one woman, preferably a married couple beyond childbearing years. We're talking about sex in space, folks."

A live web video press conference is under way with Dennis Tito, hosted by Miles O'Brien (whom I told I'd happily take the trip with!). Tito, who is 72, won't be taking the trip.

Dan Vergano at USA Today:

The trip would rely on planned Falcon Heavy rockets under development by Elon Musk's SpaceX corporation, which will be even larger than the heaviest current U.S. rockets. Falcon Heavy launches could deliver 1,600 pounds of cargo to Mars at a cost of around $128 million (providing about 350 square feet of room for that cargo), according to a 2012 analysis by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. SpaceX last year announced its first commercial contract and Defense Department contract for the rocket, intended for launch this year or next.

"SpaceX does not have a relationship with the Inspiration Mars Foundation," says SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra. "However, SpaceX is always open to providing a full spectrum of launch services to interested customers."

Any of you Boing Boing readers up for going? I'm guessing the reason gay couples aren't invited has to do with wanting to observe the differing effects on male and female subjects.

More coverage: Guardian,, Wired, WSJ.


    1.  I would wager that they will choose an older couple with extensive sailing experience — anyone who has lived with a loved one on a sub-40′ sailboat, including ocean crossings with no sight of land for weeks, has a very good potential of being able to handle the stresses of this trip.

      1.  Yes, hurtling through unmoving space, weightless with nausea in a 20 foot fully irradiated tin can for nearly two years with canned air and freeze-dried food, would make anyone yearn for that following two year return leg, knowing that if they survive, their bones will be reduced to mucilage and their flesh would be boiling with egg-sized tumors for the TV viewers!! BRILLIANT!

    1. And failed to notice that A) we’ve had men and women in space together for some time now and B) you don’t need two sexes to screw.

      1. He also failed to note that space sex has proven to be untenable and a lot less fun than imagined. Turns out gravity is pretty essential to the process.

    1. Because you can. Great little test of habitat technology, too: the return orbit is so free that even if they *die* (death by snu-snu in zero g!) they’ll still come back.  But mostly: Because they can.

        1. Except for the astronauts and engineers who were better able to plan subsequent missions due to the data gleaned from his.

          1. It can be two things. If such a mission results in learning more about manned space travel (and it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t) then it contributes to our scientific knowledge.

          2. @twitter-305116058:disqus : If we can learn about manned space travel from sending up rhesus monkeys then there’s got to be SOMETHING we can learn by sending a couple of rich tourists.

    2. Not to get all down on private space travel or people taking risks and pushing the envelope, but . . . yeah.

      We’re talking months and months in a tiny capsule just to see the Red Planet slide past the window. No chance to interact with it or do any meaningful scientific work.

      1. The science-y part is finding out what happens when you send two people on an interplanetary voyage in a cramped space capsule for 501 days. Will they suffer crippling long-term effects from weightlessness? Get sick from radiation? Go insane and eat each other? Evolve into super-intelligent space mutants and enslave humanity with newfound superpowers? We can make educated guesses to many of these questions but we won’t know all the challenges for certain until we undertake them. These are answers we would do well to know to before investing in an order-of-magnitude-more-expensive craft that can land on Mars and take off again.

        1. Yeah but on the other hand, Apollo was practice for Mars, so the test missions have already been done. The ISS is practice for the cruise phase. Debugging, especially.

          1.  There are a few differences between the moon and Mars that make the Apollo program more of a proof of concept for a Mars landing and recovery than what I would call a “practice.” That’s like saying sailing a boat across a large lake is all the prep you need for sailing across the Pacific Ocean.

          2. Well okay but factor in the landers which we have been sending there, and initially I would want to do an open ended mission. The return to Earth is more risky than an indefinite stay in my opinion, because automated delivery to Mars is so well developed that resupply can be considered to be quite reliable.

            You can’t compare an ocean to deep space anyway. Orbiting earth is quite similar and we have a lot of experience at that. A crew on the surface would be able to dig for ice and electrolyse it for oxygen. You can’t do that in deep space.

          3. @michaelrohansmith:disqus 

            Well okay but factor in the landers which we have been sending there, and initially I would want to do an open ended mission.

            The sad fact is that we don’t (yet) know how to get a big enough payload to the surface of Mars to support human life for any significant amount of time, let alone enough hardware to get someone back. That “sky crane” maneuver for Curiosity pushed the boundaries of our current capabilities as it was.

          4. This. 

            The recovery in particular is troublesome. It’s nearly as difficult as launching a rocket from Earth, and would require nearly as much fuel. The logistics of landing with that much fuel (or getting it into space all at once in the first place) means you’re looking at either manufacturing your fuel there, or having unmanned vehicles drop it off in advance so you can load up.I think this is why so many manned Mars mission proposals are one-way affairs.

          5.  There is a HUGE difference between living within the Earth’s magnetosphere, with the Earth framed 8mm in every port, vers gliding silently through dark silent unchanging fabric of space with raw gamma ray exposure. And since it’s just a ballistic mission, there would be absolutely nothing for them to keep their minds busy, not to mention the extraordinary vertigo of weightlessness, and knowing that you can’t bail out, that no matter what happens, like QE1 through QEn, we are all trapped on this space trip towards total disenfranchisement.

        2. The early Apollo launches were tests of the same boosters which were used in the manned flights.

          Except for its long duration (which could be done in LEO) this mission isn’t contributing anything to an eventual Mars-mission-with-landing. The hardware for that will be entirely different.

          This mission is like looping a Gemini capsule past the moon in the mid 60s. More stunt than step. Although maybe NASA could have tried out its tracking and communication systems with such a mission.

    3. The point, in addition to a wide range of valid science, is to get a new generation of people inspired and excited about space. And I’m sure it will also push Elon Musk to get even more serious about his Mars retirement plans. I have no doubt that this has incredible potential to be a desperately needed first step toward colonization.

    4. Data gathering. If they do a flyby, they test a good chunk of the issues of sending a landing crew (notably crew survivability and spacecraft design issues) making them easier to plan for on landing missions.

      We did several flybys of the moon before landing for exactly this reason.

  1.  Obviously I lack imagination or have the wrong gender perspective, because I think sex in space would be difficult and boring. I’m reminded of the old movie where the prostitute with the heart of gold asks the cowboy why he’s wearing his boots to bed. “Purchase,” he replies, as the screen fades to black.

    1. The receiving partner braces against wall straps.  The active partner spins for stability and flies across the capsule yelling “THE ENEMY GATE IS DOWN, BABY!”

      What’s not to love?

    2. Well I could certainly try some new positions, but without gravity helping out I think I’m going to get tired even more quickly.  That or have some seriously strong core muscles one.

  2. I once went on a road trip with a girlfriend who broke up with me on the way to our destination.   Made the whole trip REALLY awkward.  I can just imagine as the rocket is launching, one of the two saying “I think we should see other people.”.  

  3. I don’t really get why “beyond childbearing age” is such an important factor. Contraception probably works better in space, partly because I would imagine that successful conception itself would be more difficult. And, if we are serious about colonizing space, then actually they should make it a point to try to purposefully conceive in space… That would certainly raise a lot of protests, but as long as we’re getting ambitious here with such lofty goals as distant solar system exploration and colonization, then may as well not beat around the bush. Pun intended.

    1. I don’t really get why “beyond childbearing age” is such an important factor.

      Or for that matter, why a heterosexual couple would be a prerequisite for “sex in space…”

      1. As Xeni pointed out, it might relate more to observing the effects on multiple genders more so than what particular brand of sex is taking place.

        I submit that the only reason “sex” was mentioned was to make the idea appeal to the lowest common denominator.  

        And surely both male and female astronauts have rubbed one out on the space station… I’d say the sex itself is tertiary.

          1. Well them they can maybe, you know, build the capsule with that eventuality in mind? Also, caring for a pregnant woman and a baby isn’t rocket science. Pun intended.

          2. Everything a million miles away from Earth in a small capsule is rocket science. And they wont want to pack a hundred pounds of baby food that they probably won’t need.

            I can’t believe we’ve moved from who would want to spend 500 days in a tin can just to briefly sail past Mars, to, why don’t they want to have a baby while doing it?

          3. If having sex in space is one of the purported missions of this launch, then having babies is the logical next step. And astronaut food isn’t really any different from baby food. They wouldn’t need to pack anything other than what they had for the adults, maybe just more of it. Which is also something they will have to figure out if long term space exploration is really anything more than a pipe dream.

          4. If having sex in space is one of the purported missions of this launch, then having babies is the logical next step.

            Wouldn’t a shower and a snack be more logical next steps.

          5. @Fantome_NR:disqus 

            If having sex in space is one of the purported missions of this launch, then having babies is the logical next step.

            Yes—the NEXT logical step. Nothing wrong with taking one step at a time, especially regarding bioethics.

          6. If you’ve never been in a modern birthing room at a hospital, they can be pretty cozy, comforting spaces.  However, there’s about a quarter million dollars worth of gear, five nurses, and a pair of doctors just out of sight waiting for something to go wrong in a process humans have been at since, well, forever.  Not to mention the innumerable visits to the OB in the months prior and pediatrician after.

            It can be a really tough process for people on Earth with all the support and services hospitals and families can provide the baby and the mother both.  Taking away either or both on a preliminary flyby in order to pave the way for the possibility of people doing it later seems like you’re asking for trouble on the mission.  It’s fantastic to know we can get everyone back from Apollo 13 without issues, but you’ll note they didn’t try it again on 14 just to prove they can do it again.

          7. I agree. All I’m saying is, that if this really going to be part of the future of the human race, may as well start doing it, and sending up a couple of 50 year olds toknock boots for almost two years isn’t really going to teach us much more than we already know. Also, humans have been delivering babies just fine for hundreds of thousands of years with million dollar hospital suites. The majority of them are doing it right this very moment. I’d wager that a space capsule could easily provide better conditions than most humans enjoy today on Earth.

          8. If you’ve never been in a modern birthing room at a hospital, they can be pretty cozy, comforting spaces.

            All the ones that I’ve seen were decorated in the 1980s. Not very comforting to me, at least.

          1. np. I often use the words “male reproductive system” in its gender-neutral sense, as well.

            There’s not really much of a difference between a system designed to generate brand-new sperm on demand, and a system that permanently stores, and periodically releases, a non-renewable cache of eggs.

            UPDATE: technically, I’m an idiot. But only if you ignore common parlance. Of which we both, I suspect, commonly parle.

      1. Well, time to figure it out. If we really do intend to have people in space for extended periods of time, then we need to figure out how to make babies out there. Otherwise, the whole thing is pointless and doomed to fail. Unless it’s only about space sex tourism, in which case, have at it. But, pretty lame if you can only do it with post menopausal women.

        1. Think “baby steps”. Don’t rush it. Preparing for a pregnancy contingency for this particular mission adds much, MUCH more cost and RISK than you are apparently prepared to imagine.

    2. I think “beyond childbearing age” was based on the risk of radiation exposure. It’s likely that whoever goes will get dosed with fairly high levels of radiation during their time in space, and it might ruin their chance of having kids as a result. If they’re too old? One less risk. 

      Probably also more useful for getting results about how “average” people will react to long term space travel. A 30-something military flight pilot is very different from a 50-year-old couple physiologically.

  4. I always figured going to mars would literally be a one way trip.  We would take volunteers who had the proper health and skills but where at the end of their lives.  This is also why I figure it would be done by another country with a more “open” view of human rights.

    1. Not necessarily at end of lives. There are a great many people who would consider the science, and the adventure, worth the sacrifice.

      If you really have informed volunteers — and there’s no question but that we would — “human rights” doesn’t apply.

      1. Seriously.  I think if a company put out an open invitation for anyone to apply for a one way ONLY trip to Mars (obviously having to pass certain physical/mental tests would be part of it) they’d have more applicants then they could look through in a year.

        If I wasn’t married I’d go.  It would be glorious (even if everything went to shit and I died drifting through space, or some asshole programs the computer wrong and I hit the terrain at a couple hundred mph.)

  5. Don’t understand the “beyond childbearing” part.  Infertile couples of any age, either by misfortune or design, would do just as nicely.  It is conceivable that much younger candidates would be better equipped from a vitality standpoint to cope with the stresses of such a voyage.

    Thanks to a simple procedure, my wife and I have been “beyond childbearing” for years now despite being in our mid 30’s.

    Seems unnecessarily restrictive.

    Criticism aside, this is fantastic and I am supremely envious of whomever makes this trip.

      1. I find this rather hard to believe.  Particularly when looking at healthcare expenditures for the elderly.  

        Perhaps it has to do more with Tito’s own age than anything else.

        1. I’ve attended the funerals of both young and old. Trust me, the latter are a lot less depressing.

          (I can see why Tito wouldn’t want to emphasize the “marginally more expendible!” angle though.)

          1. I don’t find death particularly depressing to begin with, but maybe that’s just me.

            Think of it — people risk death for a hell of a lot less.  That Red Bull skydiver guy comes to mind.  Or any random gangbanger. 

  6. Right.  In 5 years.  Yawn.  Time for a reality check. Sounds like Tito is just looking for a little publicity.  

  7. Maybe space changes what “child bearing years” actually are, and creates a miracle baby! Or antichrist or whatever…

    1. Antichrist Baby from SPACE!
      “He was born to kill for your sins.”
      Coming soon to a cinema near you, in Technicolor!

  8. And how does he try to inspire STEM education? Why with those lowly visual and literary arts. If you do send a couple to circumnavigate Mars and likely contract cancer together, at least let them have enough arts and humanities knowledge to be able to communicate their experience well to the rest of us. Personally, I think this venture has a cliche’d aging tycoon funding a space-ark plot…a little too B-movie retro for this century.

  9. I like how everyone is going on about the sex and baby part, where the first thing I thought was 500 days in a tiny confined space with my wife.   ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND?  No seriously, I love her more than life, ect.., but damn there are times when I need some me space.  That capsule better than some separate compartments, and there better be two beds/sleeping gear (in separate compartments obviously). 

    He could probably make all the money that would be needed to fund this back by just having a camera installed and releasing it as reality TV.

  10. Call me shallow, but I happen to think a great deal of our awesome technology is simply going to waste until the day we’re making zero-G porn with large-breasted women.

    And maybe it’s just me, but somehow I doubt that

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