CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., - A nonprofit foundation wants to recruit a man and a woman - possibly a married couple - for a bare-bones, 501-day journey to Mars and back that would start in less than five years, project organizers said on Wednesday.
The mission, expected to cost upwards of $1 billion, would be privately financed by donations and sponsorships.
Project founder Dennis Tito, a multimillionaire who in 2001 paid $20 million for a trip to the International Space Station, said he will pay start-up costs for two years to begin development of life-support systems and other critical technologies.
Currently, there are no US human spaceships in operation, but several are under development and expected to be flying by 2017.
That leaves little time to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment that would allow a craft to loop around Mars, coming as close as about 150 miles (241 kilometers) to the planet's surface, before returning to Earth.