Testing limits: Can the bonds of marriage survive a trip to Mars?
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The tagline for the first "Alien" movie back in the 1970s was: "In space, no one can hear you scream." Multimillionaire investment consultant Dennis Tito plans to test that notion by launching a married couple into what will be mankind's first journey to Mars.
Mr. Tito's space tourism organization has scheduled the 500-day mission to and from Earth's nearest planetary neighbor for January 2018, when the two planets are closest to each other in their orbits. The ship will travel millions of miles without landing, but it will circle the Red Planet before returning to Earth. Just getting humans safely to and from that section of the solar system will be one of the most monumental engineering feats in history.
Mr. Tito, the founder of the aptly named Inspiration Mars Foundation, announced plans for the voyage last week. The rocket and capsule carrying the still-unknown couple to Mars won't have room for more than two people. They will undergo the most rigorous training imaginable since they will have only each other for support.
The ship will provide shielding from the radiation of deep space, but scientists have no idea what prolonged exposure will do to humans in that environment for 18 months. One of the requirements for the couple is that they be beyond child-bearing age. They will be expected to act as man and wife, so data from their cosmic cohabitation can be analyzed along with all the other telemetry.
The psychological impact of the long mission is the biggest unknown factor. Scientists are reasonably certain humans can deal with the effects of zero gravity for that amount of time, but the unique darkness and monotony of space travel may have effects that were never imagined.
Assuming the couple returns to Earth, either they will have bonded like no other pair in history or lawyers will have to decide if no-fault divorce laws apply beyond Earth's gravity.
First Published March 5, 2013 12:00 am