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SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY > Married couple to go to Mars

WASHINGTON - The Associated Press

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This image shows the spacecraft envisioned by the private group, which wants to send a married couple on a mission to fly by the red planet. AP photo

This image shows the spacecraft envisioned by the private group, which wants to send a married couple on a mission to fly by the red planet. AP photo

It is a road trip that could test the best of marriages: Mars. A tycoon announced plans Feb. 27 to send a middle-aged couple on a privately built spaceship to slingshot around the Red Planet and come back home, hopefully with their bodies and marriage in one piece after 501 days of no-escape togetherness in a cramped capsule.

Under the audacious but bare-bones plan, the spacecraft would blast off less than five years from now and pass within 160 kilometers of the Martian surface. The cost was not disclosed, but outsiders put it at more than $1 billion.

The team of space veterans behind the project hasn’t quite figured out the technical details of the rocket they will use or the capsule the husband-and-wife astronauts will live in during the 16-month voyage. But they know it will be an adventure not for the weak of body or heart.

“This is not going to be an easy mission,” chief technical officer and potential crew member Taber MacCallum said. “We called it the Lewis and Clark trip to Mars.”

The trying circumstances include: no showers, limits on toilet paper and clothing, drinking water made from the crew members’ recycled urine and sweat, and almost no privacy. But the flight also comes with never-before-seen views of Mars. And there’s ample time for zero-gravity sex in space, something NASA doesn’t like to talk about.

As for why a man and a woman will be selected, “this is very symbolic and we really need it to represent humanity,” MacCallum said.

Emotional support needed

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 they 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 private, nonprofit project, called Inspiration Mars, will get initial money from multimillionaire investment consultant Dennis Tito, the first space tourist.

February/28/2013

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