Niagara Gazette — As for why a couple will make the flight, "this is very symbolic and we really need it to represent humanity with a man and a woman," MacCallum said.
He said if it is a man and a woman on such a long, close-quarters voyage, it makes sense for them to be married so that they can give each other the emotional support that will probably need when they look out the window and see Earth get smaller and more distant: "If that's not scary, I don't know what is."
The project aims to capitalize on the once-in-a-generation close approach of the two planets' orbits. The timeline for the 501-day mission is set out in a technical paper to be presented next month at a scientific meeting. It calls for a launch on Jan. 5, 2018, a Mars flyby on Aug. 20, 2018, and a return to Earth on May 21, 2019.
In a statement, NASA spokesman David Steitz said the venture validates President Barack Obama's decision to rely more on private sector ingenuity to explore space, and is "a testament to the audacity of America's commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America's citizen-explorers."
He said "NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually beneficial activities."
Stanford University professor Scott Hubbard, NASA's former Mars mission chief, said that the team's technical paper is "long on inspiration, short on technical details. What is there is correct."
"It's sort of an audacious thing to say, 'I'm going to fly by Mars in five years,'" said MacCallum, who was part of a team that lived for two years in Biosphere 2, a sort of giant terrarium on Earth that was supposed to replicate a mission on another planet.