National Geographic News
Dennis Tito gestures after landing in a space capsule near Arkalyk, Kazakstan.

Dennis Tito is all smiles after returning from six days on the International Space Station in 2001.

Photograph by Mikhail Metzel, AP

Jane J. Lee

National Geographic News

Published February 22, 2013

An announcement this week that a group led by the world's first space "tourist," Dennis Tito, plans to send a manned mission to flyby Mars in 2018 has lit up the Internet.

A press advisory from the new group, the Inspiration Mars Foundation, made no mention about whether there would be humans onboard.

But reports from NewSpace Journal say that there will be two crew members making the journey.

The Inspiration Mars Foundation, founded by Tito, plans to start its mission in January 2018, taking advantage of a rare launch window. Earth and Mars will be aligned in such a way that a trip that would normally take between two to three years would last about a year and a half, or 501 days.

The next such opportunity will occur in 2031, according to a Scientific American blog post.

Tito's foundation will hold a press conference on February 27 in Washington, presumably to offer more details about the trip.

The National Geographic Society is in talks with Inspiration Mars Foundation about a potential partnership around the 2018 mission.

The man behind the private Mars push is no stranger to the red planet.

In 2001 Tito paid $20 million to become the first "tourist" to rocket into space. He spent six days on the International Space Station. (Related: "7 Ways You Could Blast Off by 2023.")

Though Tito made his fortune in finance, he has a master's degree in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

While at JPL, Tito worked on Mariner 4 and 9, which flew to the red planet in the 60s and 70s respectively. Mariner 4 was the first successful flyby of Mars in 1965, beaming back the first pictures of another planet from deep space. (Watch a video about exploring Mars.)

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