You heard? Denis Tito is sending a couple to Mars in 2018. It’ll be a 500day round trip and cost him a billion. We won’t actually be landing on the bloody planet. We’ll just swing around it and head back.

We? Did I say we? You mean I’m going? Of course, ahem, no one is better qualified. Sharp intellect. Fit as a fiddle. Quick thinkin’, fast reflexes, able ta survive without air pressure for extended lengths of time. Required, when goin’ out for an EVA. Just in case the woman shuts and bolts the door, y’know.

Let’s see now. 2018, huh? Hmmmm. I’ll be 63. So? At 63, Paul McCartney had six blonde, blue-eyed groupies who’d do anything he told them ta. And Price Waterhouse’s HR division was screening applications for the seventh (Paul didn’t need to rest on Sundays). Manning a spaceship to Mars is a cinch when compared ta keeping six horny groupies (and one even hornier eager-beaver rookie groupy), satiated. At worst I’d overshoot my trajectory and land on one of the asteroids, Vesta or Ceres, though I’d prefer Ceres. Vesta is flat and cold, like my boss, Nurse Ratched, who we suspect is Saskatchewan in disguise, rectangular, close-cropped and flat.

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Last but not the least prerequisite, I’m not too horny. Tennis sounds more interesting as you age and that’s why they’ve chosen an old astronaut. Anyway, she’ll of course have to get a tubectomy done, prior to departure. Even an old, long-dormant volcano can erupt, you never know. We don’t want twins born in zero gravity. Besides, on a 500day ride, too much sex would just get to be thor bori khara, khara bori thor. That’s Bengali for getting to be a bore. “Oh, honey, but we did it that way just befoah we passed Phobos. Let’s cool it a bit. Anyway, at yore age, you can’t get it up before Deimos. And besides, Mission Control is concerned.”

“Roger, sweetheart, but we’ll have to do it on our next EVA. It’ll be like pretending we were in the Centenial Park. But we got ta be careful. I don’t want to have ta scream, ‘Houston, we have a problem! There’s a leak! Its splattering my visor! I can’t see! You forgot to pack the Planetex!” (Planetex- trade name for Kleenex for Interplanetory Fornikashun).

By the by, every space faring nation has a term for their space men. The Yanks call’em astronauts, the Ruskies, cosmonauts. Likewise, the Chinese have their taikonauts, the Germans, their Raumfahrers. Why can’t Bengali spacemen have their own distinctive name? I propose Bongonaut and my throat chokes with emotion as I hear a familiar melody wafting over from LB23 in the Taurus sector of the local cluster. Tears smart my eyes as I imagine my solar sails bulge with the strong photon currents from the Sun. The melody is none other than Tagore’s –

“Shudhu jawa, ashaaaa

shudhu srotey bhashaaaa…”

(don’t worry about the extra ‘a’s. It’s my neck play, a.k.a. gola khelano).

Now let’s get serious here. We were talking about a Mars mission being planned by space tourist and millionaire entrepreneur, Dennis Tito. A very interesting guy, this Dennis Tito.

Dennis A. Tito is the Chief Executive Officer of Wilshire Associates Incorporated, a leading provider of investment management, consulting and technology services. Tito earned a B.S. in Astronautics and Aeronautics from NYU College of Engineering and a M.S. from Rensselaer in Engineering Science. He began his career as an aerospace engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the age of 23. While serving at JPL, he was responsible for designing the trajectories for the Mariner spacecraft missions to Mars and Venus. Although he left to pursue a career in investment management, Tito remained committed to the exploration of space. On April 28, 2001, Tito fulfilled a 40 year dream of going to space, when he served as a crew member of an eight-day Russian Soyuz taxi mission to the International Space Station. When a hands-on guy like this starts something, chances are it’ll work.

In order to minimize the fuel requirements, the earliest launch window is in January 2018, when the transit time to Mars will be the shortest and therefore the requirements of energy and consumables will be the least. The diagram below shows the planned trajectory-

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Planned trajectory. Solid line- Outbound. Dotted line- Return.

Long durations in isolated and confined environments like the planned spacecraft to Mars, have similarities with certain situations on Earth. Over-winter stays at the South Pole, nuclear submarine missions, the MIR and ISS space stations are some examples. These experiences have shown that crew dynamics, well-being and mental health can be positively and negatively impacted by a wide variety of factors like crew selection. Picking the right crew is of paramount importance. Male/female mixed crews have been seen to perform most optimally.

For the planned voyage, a married couple in middle age, who have had a reasonably long and stable relationship and appreciate being in each other’s company will be chosen as crew. This is expected to enhance psychological bonding, trust and sensitivity to emotional needs. And if we are looking at 500 days on the road, the need to fuck will certainly arise. A young couple might get boisterous and inadvertently press a button and change the trajectory to Neptune. Me, I’d be careful. We’d get inside one of those stand-up sleeping bags and give the craft a gentle rocking spin. Hyak!

Tito is not alone in his venture obviously. Joining him in the project are some real heavyweights in space flight with years of experience. Grant Anderson, pioneer in environment control and life support systems at Locheed. Barry Finger an authority in water reclamation, waste disposal and air revitalization at Honeywell. John Carrico one of the original developers of orbital and trajectory sciences, having worked in the Apollo as well as Voyager/Pioneer and other inter-planetary missions. Gary Lantz- aerodynamics, Dr Jonathan Clark- neurosurgeon, biomedics expert, veteran of multiple shuttle missions.

And of course, Achyut Dutt- Mission Commander (getting really high and experiencing weightlessness on weekends, since 1972).

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© 2013 Achyut Dutt.